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Movie review: 'Laal Singh Chaddha' gets 'Forrest Gump' right

1/5
Aamir Khan plays Laal Singh Chaddha. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Aamir Khan plays Laal Singh Chaddha. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 9 (UPI) -- In 1994, Forrest Gump was a phenomenon. The Indian remake, Laal Singh Chaddha, in theaters Thursday, is faithful, while adaptations to Indian history and culture add interesting new themes.

Forrest Gump led an extraordinary life through American history from the '50s to the '80s. Laal Singh Chaddha's (Aamir Khan) story begins in the '80s.

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Laal Singh Chaddha follows the plot of the movie Forrest Gump, which was different from the Winston Groom novel. The film does not break for dance numbers, and sticks to Laal's athletics, military service, business and running across the country.

Yet, setting it in different decades, in a different country, necessarily requires adjustments. This review will technically include spoilers for Forrest Gump.

The hook of Forrest Gump was to see Tom Hanks interact with actual footage of American presidents, and events like the March on Washington. Laal interacts with fewer events from Indian history.

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In fact, part of the plot is that Laal's mother (Mona Singh) shelters Laal from volatile historic conflicts. Those which do occur are less about the spectacle of Laal being involved than simply signifying the year.

The assassination of Indira Gandhi happens off-camera while Laal is a child. Later, Laal runs by the Anna Hazare hunger strike, but doesn't meet these historical figures.

Instead of meeting a pre-fame Elvis, Laal teaches Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan his signature moves. Laal plays a different sport and goes into the underwear business instead of shrimping, but there is still an homage to ping-pong.

The most significant thematic change comes to Laal's childhood sweetheart Rupa (Kareena Kapoor), filling the Jenny role. Rupa remains a tragic character, but Laal Singh Chaddha does not feel quite as punitive to Rupa.

Forrest Gump oddly seems to punish Jenny for participating in revolutionary events like the '60s hippie protests and '70s Black Panther movement. Rupa has no such historic revolutions in which to participate, but her need to increase her station in life leads her to abusive men.

This also reframes why Rupa doesn't accept Laal's marriage proposal at first. By the time he's able to provide for her, she's already gotten in too deep with criminals.

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She's still tragic, from the heartbreaking moment when young Rupa asks Laal if he has 10 rupees for her father so he'll stop beating her mother. It seems more of a commentary on a social class system that drives her to accept such abuse as opposed to an American falling in with a pattern of abusive men.

However, because of the shifting timeline, Rupa's mystery illness no longer coincides with the onset of AIDS in the '80s. That renders her tragedy more random than Jenny's, just for the sake of sticking to the script.

Also, instead of a Lieutenant Dan, who Forrest saved in Vietnam, Laal rescues Brother Mohammed (Manav Vi), a Pakistani combatant in the Kargil War who'd hoped to die a martyr.

That gives Brother Mohammed's journey a different redemptive theme, and the film allows Mohammed to go one step further than Lieutenant Dan did.

Mohammed is a double amputee like Lieutenant Dan, and Vi is not. So Laal Singh Chaddha likely recreated the same visual effects as Forrest Gump to remove the actors' legs.

Laal Singh Chadda is faithful to Forrest Gump from the floating feather to the plot structure. Since the history is less vital to the narrative, it gives the story itself more weight, with some new thematic context.

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Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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