“Why are you messing with the original?” asked Bollywood actor Aamir Khan when writer Atul Kulkarni shared his audacious idea to adapt the 1994 Hollywood cult classic ‘Forrest Gump’ to Indian sensibilities.
Our thoughts, exactly.
‘Forrest Gump’ was one of Tom Hanks’ seminal films about an endearing simpleton who becomes an American hero, patriot and a billionaire — all without a mean bone in his body. This beloved blockbuster smartly juxtaposed America’s historical events from the 1940s to 1970s with the lovable bloke’s significant turns in his own life.
“When Atul told me that he had written an adaptation of ‘Forrest Gump’ in just two weeks, my first reaction was — ‘just leave it alone’. But when I heard the narration, I was sold because he has done such a beautiful job. ‘Forrest Gump’ is so rooted in American culture, but Atul managed to make it an Indian story and I was sold,” said Khan in a video interview with Gulf News.
When a deeply Western tale about an apolitical white man is transplanted into the Indian milieu, Forrest Gump from Alabama becomes Laal Singh Chaddha from Punjab and Gump’s sweetheart Jenny becomes the ambitious Rupa (Kareena Kapoor).
Forrest’s iconic philosophy ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’ becomes ‘Life is like a paani puri [Indian savoury snack]’.
Khan, who is often described as Bollywood’s biggest perfectionist, claims remaking ‘Forrest Gump’ wasn’t ever part of his well-laid plans.
Film folklore has it that Khan, 57, will agree to be a part of a film only if he’s fully convinced about it and has everything figured out from start to finish. He’s one of the few long-enduring actors in Bollywood who works on limited films every year and believes in quality over quantity.
“But I really loved the script and it touched my heart. I felt drawn to it and therefore I had to do it. It’s a film that has been made with a lot of love and care. I love his innocence, his purity, his heart … He doesn’t have a negative bone in him and I think it’s such a wonderful thing to see in someone,” said Khan. Apparently, he found his titular character’s inherent goodness and unabashed optimism ‘reassuring’ in today’s mercurial times.
“I wish I could be a little like ‘Laal’ … There are lot of people who are innocent and pure like ‘Laal’,” said Khan with a smile.
While many still revere ‘Forrest Gump’ and its pristine lead’s unadulterated and unconditional love for his childhood bestie, some cynics do believe that the film hasn’t aged too well.
“To be really honest, it’s been ages since I saw ‘Forrest Gump’. I saw it when it first came out and I loved it. I saw it two or three times at that time and it affected me deeply. I loved Tom Hanks’ performance and the way the film was made … but honestly, I didn’t revisit the original,” said Khan. But he does admit that during the filming they looked up a few scenes from the original when his director Advait Chandan and he were stuck while filming a particularly difficult part.
“I remember Advait and I saying to each other: ‘let’s see how they have done it’ … With laptops and internet connectivity, we can now watch a film anywhere in the middle of a mountain even … but we didn’t revisit the whole film and try to make ours,” said Khan.
‘Laal Singh Chaddha’, which saw multiple delays in filming and release owing to the global pandemic, is keenly aware that this is an important movie in his career and for Bollywood, which is going through a lean phase with most films ending up as damp squibs at the box office.
“Certainly all of us have been through a rough time with COVID. In many ways, it has changed our lives so dramatically and affected us so dramatically … Maybe that’s why I feel a film like ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ makes you feel nice. It calms you down and makes you believe, once again, in miracles,” said Khan.
Strictly speaking, it’s not just Khan who needs a miracle. Ideally, the Hindi film industry which is struggling to draw people back into the cinemas also needs some magical flash. The reactions to the trailers of ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ were mixed and calls for boycotting the film over Khan’s controversial remarks made in 2015 are being raked up. According to reports, a section of social media users have accused Khan of unfairly describing his native country as intolerant. In the last few weeks, the actor has reiterated that he loves India and continues to urge his haters and trolls not to boycott his films over the perceived slight.
Khan is convinced that the goodness of ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ will hopefully win over hearts and hate.
While the rumblings of boycotts continues in the background, have the makers addressed the problematic parts in the original and given a modern spin to ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’? The 1994 classic was often criticised for portraying its female lead Jenny in the negative light for being ambitious. She dies from AIDS, perhaps a way of penalising her for following her path.
“Kareena plays Jenny’s character from the original. But this is one character that has gone through a lot of change in its adaptation to the Hindi version … And those changes were done because culturally what exists in America doesn’t happen in India. We couldn’t have the hippie culture and all that … We showed Rupa in situations that are likely to happen in an Indian scenario,” he said.
And in his head, the female protagonist isn’t being punished for rejecting his character Laal’s romantic advances.
“What I find about Rupa’s character fascinating is that she has gone through a lot of trauma in her childhood. She finds it difficult to come out of a relationship that’s damaging because of her past and that’s a sad part about her … She is not being penalised in any way … She’s not able to come out of the darkness that she has experienced as a child and it affects her through her life,” said Khan. His favourite scene, incidentally, is also the one that involves Rupa.
“The scene where I meet Kareena after a very long time and she sees me as a Sardar for the first time is one of my favourite scenes … That key scene from the original is my favourite too. I just love those scenes. I hope I did all right in this film,” said Khan.
His last line — said with a mixture of hope and doubt — is why Khan is so popular. Despite having acted in Hindi cinema for over several decades, he never takes his craft or his audience for granted.
“I really hope they enjoy this pure film,” said Khan.
Don’t miss it!
‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ is out in UAE cinemas on August 11.