‘Laal Singh Chaddha’ Review: India Gets a ‘Forrest Gump’ Remake That Stands on Its Own

A faithful adaptation that still finds the space to lean into specific cultural influences, deep history, and lovely visuals.
A man and woman walk hand-in-hand through along a wooded path and he looks at her adoringly; still from "Laal Singh Chaddha."
Kareena Kapoor and Aamir Khan in "Laal Singh Chaddha"

A short way into “Laal Singh Chaddha,” the Indian adaptation of “Forrest Gump” from Aamir Khan Productions and Viacom18 Studios, the film shows its true colors. After an opening sequence that follows a CGI feather — just like the one in Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 film — we meet our hero Laal (Aamir Khan), an amiable Sikh man who boards a train with small red box in hand. As Laal begins chatting with an uninterested seatmate, audiences will likely be tempted to take in the “Forrest Gump” of it all, ready for him to crack open a classic Indian mithai box and offer sweets to his fellow passengers.

The box, it turns out, is full of gol gappe. Not sandesh or barfi or soan papdi or any other sweet, but the crisp rounds of hollow bread that Indians crack open and fill with peas, potatoes, seasoning, and delicious, spicy water that looks like it came straight from the gutter. Instead of a box of chocolates or the obvious Indian equivalent, the film takes things a step further, adding strong depth and resonance to what could otherwise have been an unremarkable adaptation.

If any Hollywood film lends itself to full-tilt Bollywood melodrama, it’s this one, but “Laal Singh Chaddha” measures its emotional beats tactically, deploying poignant punches sporadically throughout. Knowing the major plot points and overall arc of “Forrest Gump” does not dull this version’s impact in the slightest, as screenwriter Atul Kulkarni builds out a rich world for Laal that feels wholly independent from Forrest’s.

“Laal Singh Chaddha” makes its way to the screen after 20 years in purgatory: there was the decade of writing by screenwriter Kulkarni, followed by another 10 years of Kulkarni acquiring rights to the original. As the rare Indian remake to actually have the official remake stamp of approval, the film is free to follow Eric Roth’s original storyboard, now steeping it in Indian cultural, historical, and religious elements every step of the way. The “Laal Singh Chaddha” team excels at this; from the rising star who loves Laal’s dance moves to the scene where he loses his leg braces (“Bhaag, Laal, bhaag!”) to the eccentric companion he finds in the army who can’t stop talking about his family business (sewing underwear).

The lazy version of adapting a film internationally is changing its location, cast, and little else, but Kulkarni is meticulous about finding not only the “Indian version” of each “Forrest Gump” beat but infusing it with the same charm that made the 1994 film so indelible.

Khan plays the role like he’s been doing it for years, and in a sense he has; his Laal is instantly evocative of PK, the alien he played in a 2014 film of the same name — a little naïve, a little eccentric, and ultimately good-natured. He captures original star Tom Hanks’ memorable body language and speech patterns with a full beard and turban and lilting Punjabi dialogue that translates even lines as famous as “and that’s all I have to say about that.”

The film espouses religious tolerance, tracking violence between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs from the 1970s to India’s present, with messaging stopping just shy of preachy (leaving that to films like “PK” itself). It’s no accident that the character is Sikh (though Khan is not) or the timeline shifted to capture some of the country’s most bloody and shameful conflicts in recent memory, such as 1984’s Operation Blue Star and subsequent anti-Sikh riots or the 1999 Kargil War in Kashmir. Life connects Laal to various languages, regions, and religions, but the only thing that bothers him is the bloodshed.

Alongside Khan is his three-time costar Kareena Kapoor as childhood friend Rupa, Mona Singh as Laal’s mother, and Telugu actor Naga Chaitanya in a triumphant Hindi-film debut. All of them find the film’s tone with ease, thanks to Advait Chandan’s direction and also the ubiquity of the original. Chaitanya’s scenes with Khan are particularly electric, a chemistry then handed off to Manav Vij as a clever alternative to Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise).

Shot all over India, the film proudly showcases everything from the mustard fields of Punjab to the urban splendor of New Delhi (Laal’s four-year jog around the country helps, as does Satyajit Pande’s cinematography). The soundtrack includes songs in Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, and Telugu from Bengali composer Pritam, plus the cast and crew. It is meant to showcase a nation as dense and diverse as India as comprehensively as possible, a task Roth and Zemeckis never had to tackle, and for which Kulkarni and Chandan deserve a whole box of gol gappe.

Grade: B+

A Paramount Pictures release, “Laal Singh Chaddha” will hit theaters on Thursday, August 11.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.