‘Laal Singh Chaddha’: Aamir Khan Discusses Adapting ‘Forrest Gump’ for an Indian Audience

With his affable public image and effortless career transition from a bankable leading man to an elder statesman of sorts, no other Bollywood star can be more accurately described as “India’s Tom Hanks” than Aamir Khan. And as fate would have it, Khan is stepping into Hanks’ shoes as the star of the Indian remake of Forrest Gump, Laal Singh Chaddha, which debuted in theaters on Thursday, in time for the extended Independence Day weekend.

Quintessentially about America, director Robert Zemeckis’ Oscar-winning original film doesn’t immediately lend itself to a recontextualization for a foreign audience; but with minor tweaks and major overhauls, Khan managed to retool the soaring drama for Indians accustomed to colorful, genre-fluid epics. He detailed the process in an interview with the BBC, revealing the alterations began with the framing device of the film. While Hanks’ Forrest recounts his life journey to strangers on a park bench, Laal, in the remake, tells his tale to fellow passengers on a train. In Khan’s own words:

“In India, it’s a little difficult to sit on a park bench and have a conversation, it’s rather noisy and crowded. So we couldn’t imagine setting it at a bus stop. In India, trains are the most used form of transport, and it’s very common for passengers to exchange stories on a long journey, so that’s how we set the piece.”

While the trailer teased scenes that would be familiar to anybody that had watched the original, there were several key differences. The first (and most obvious) was that Khan is playing a Sikh man who wears a turban at different stages of his life. Secondly, the famous box of chocolates had been replaced by “golgappas” — a savory snack of puffed balls filled with spiced water that is popular all across India. And thirdly, Laal’s journey coincided meaningfully with important moments in India’s history — from riots to wars, sports victories and political turmoil, all told through the lens of a Sikh man.

For the film, which took 14 years to produce — the majority of which were spent acquiring the original’s rights — Khan is collaborating once again with director Advait Chandan. The filmmaker made sure that Laal Singh Chaddha, in true Bollywood fashion, featured numerous songs, stating, “If a film does not have songs, it does not feel Indian to me. The songs in the film reflect Laal’s feelings, evoking the same emotional response in the audience.”

Khan’s first collaboration with Chandan, Secret Superstar, featured him in a supporting role and became a runaway hit in China, finishing with over $150 million worldwide. Before that, Khan had starred in the sports drama Dangal, which remains the highest-grossing Indian film of all time, with $330 million worldwide (over $200 million of which came from China). To Western audiences, he’s probably best known as the star of the Oscar-nominated period epic Lagaan.

But Khan’s last film — the swashbuckler adventure Thugs of Hindostan — is among the most notorious bombs in Indian box office history. Khan himself has acknowledged the film’s disastrous performance, and on several occasions, apologized to his fans for letting them down. Thugs was released four years ago. Laal Singh Chaddha is, in every sense, a comeback vehicle. But the film hasn’t exactly knocked it out of the park in India, where it was released to lukewarm reviews and disappointing box office earlier this week.

Also starring Kareena Kapoor Khan, Naga Chaitanya and Mona Singh, Laal Singh Chaddha is written by Atul Kulkarni. You can watch the film’s trailer here, and stay tuned to Collider for more updates.

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