Why Laal Singh Chhadha Is A Good Movie To Watch Alongside Independence Day

The story and narrative draw the viewer in slowly but surely, till, in the end, you wait for the final credits to end before leaving the theater.

What could be better to watch on the eve of Independence Day than a film that gives you lyrical glimpses of this wonderful palimpsest that is India? One that shows the triumph of the human spirit over barriers like religion, physical or mental ability? One that shows how strangers can be united over something as simple as a story that carries a message of hope?

Laal Singh Chaddha was a film I personally wasn’t too sure of, given that it was a remake of Forrest Gump, which I had seen when it released. The trailer didn’t excite. But end of the day it was an Aamir Khan movie and hence unmissable. The boycott calls would have made my inner rebel go watch it even otherwise. And I am so glad we did. While the film has several weaknesses, it has huge positives.

An excellent Indianised version of a classic

In Indianising the story of an ordinary man, Atul Kulkarni has done a masterful job of making it more relevant and more heartstirring than the original. The glimpses of recent modern history, much of which I had to tell my younger kids about, rooted it much more firmly in ‘mere desh ki dharti’. Turning the lead into a Sikh character also gave it more of a poignant connect with recent history, between Operation Blue Star and the 1984 riots. Bringing forth the Bollywood connect with gangster money in the 90s, the Mandal commission riots, Advani’s rath yatra, all were referenced.

Rupa D’Souza has a very well-etched character arc, in some ways more comprehensible and relatable to Indians than Jenny in the original. A girl struggling to overcome the circumstances of her childhood, she doesn’t believe herself to be worthy of being loved or treated well until the end. Laal Singh’s mother too was a force of nature, like so many Indian mothers, willing to do anything to help their kids succeed.

Some excellent, nuanced acting by the women actors

Kareena and Mona Singh both bring more than their A game to the film. Kareena lights up every scene she is in and beings a lovely mix of innocence and pathos to the role despite everything the character goes through, from ingenue to a woman exploited by the world she sought to dominate. Mona Singh lives the role, a stunning achievement given she is several years younger than Aamir and plays a great arc from the mother of a young child to an old lady. The young kid who plays Laal Singh Chadha is so endearing and authentic, he just embodies the character and brings a lump to the throat in every scene.

However, many of the historic events are literally just touched upon like dates in a calendar, during which Laal Singh Chaddha is a bystander, like many of us were. While that’s true of real life, in a movie one expects the protagonist to be a little more significant. Moreover, some of the significant events are not mentioned – perhaps with an eye on the current mood.

Surprisingly, Aamir’s performance is uneven. At times he replicates his PK character, as if he wasn’t able to find the truth of LSC within himself – the wide-eyed gaze, the stiff stance. It is the moments where he doesn’t try too hard, where he plays scenes as Aamir would, that really touch the heart. The scene in which he ties on the turban to the sonorous sounds of Ik Onkar is goosebump inducing. The story and narrative draw the viewer in slowly but surely, till, in the end, you wait for the final credits to end before leaving the theater.

Despite its weaknesses, Laal Singh Chaddha is a film that touches the heart with the tale of a simpleton who learns to accept whatever life throws at him with optimism and grace. The story of a man who did not criticize people around him but loved them with an open heart and made them feel good about themselves is a terrific one in these judgmental times. His wide-eyed innocence and naivete help him live through tumultuous times with his own values intact – something we could learn.

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Watch it for its ability to make you laugh, cry and come away with a weird feeling of something inside you having healed.

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