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‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ Review: Forrest Gump in India

“Forrest Gump” has been called many things: a feel-good crowd-pleaser, a maddening piece of pap, and America’s version of Voltaire’s “Candide” (per the film scholar Dave Kehr). “Laal Singh Chaddha” offers up a fresh look: a luxuriantly produced Indian adaptation that doubles down on the story’s simpleton hero, with new historical touchstones.

In the film’s framing device, Laal (Aamir Khan, the star of the 2001 crossover hit “Lagaan”) recounts his life story to passengers on a train. He grows up bullied because of his leg braces, despite his protective mother (Mona Singh), but he befriends a classmate, Rupa (Kareena Kapoor Khan), and later pines for her.

The Gumpian formula of comical serendipity plays out as Laal accidentally becomes a track-and-field star, inspires a signature dance, rescues friend and foe during a mountain skirmish, and earns millions manufacturing underwear. The famous box of chocolates is reimagined, sweetly so: life is now like a golgappa (a crisp fried treat).

In Advait Chandan’s film, traumatic national history gets a therapeutic recap: the military conflict in which Laal shows the power of compassion is the Kargil war, while the assassination of Indira Gandhi and sectarian riots also figure into the plot. (Laal is Sikh but only barely grasps these violent events.)

Though treated as noble, Laal’s naïve optimism doesn’t rise to much more than the notion of having a good attitude. Khan’s portrayal suggests a cross between a lesser Farrelly Brothers comedy and “Being There,” and seems ill-suited to Rupa’s grim later experiences married to an abusive producer. The movie’s charms are limited by what comes to feel like a coddling conceit.

Laal Singh Chaddha
Rated PG-13 for some violent content, thematic elements and suggestive material. In Hindi, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 39 minutes. In theaters.



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