How Bollywood star Aamir Khan brought his Hindi adaptation of Forrest Gump to life
'We don't react to all of this,' Khan says of campaign to boycott the film
In a new Hindi-language adaptation of Forrest Gump, life isn't like a box of chocolates — it's like a box of golgappas, an Indian street food delicacy composed of flatbread, filling and spiced water.
Bollywood actor Aamir Khan — one of the biggest movie stars in the world — delivers a similar but distinct line about the popular snack as the main character in Laal Singh Chaddha, a faithful remake of the 1994 classic starring Tom Hanks.
Khan, who counts the original among his favourite movies, said the new production happened "quite by accident" after a conversation with fellow actor Atul Kulkarni.
"We were discussing Forrest Gump and I was saying how it's one of my favourite films. And then two weeks later, he calls me up and says, I've written an adaptation for Forrest Gump," the veteran actor told CBC News.
"Atul is not a writer," said Khan, who plays protagonist Laal from his college years until middle age. "And he's written it in two weeks, and [it's] an adaptation of Forrest Gump — it's a cult classic. So I didn't have much hope from that."
The resulting script lived up to Khan's standards (he's known as "Mr. Perfectionist" in the Indian media) and to the spirit of the original film: Laal Singh Chaddha swaps out Elvis Presley's gyrating hips for Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan's open arms; Vietnam for the Kargil War; and the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company for Rupa Company, an Indian knitwear brand.
WATCH | Movie star Aamir Khan talks about the controversy surrounding his new film:
Like Forrest, Laal is a simple-minded man who cares deeply about his loved ones, especially his mother (Mona Singh) and his childhood friend and love, Rupa (Kareena Kapoor Khan). Instead of Forrest Gump's flower child Jenny, who dies after years of drug abuse, Rupa is an aspiring actress caught in a dangerous cycle of domestic violence.
He offers his life story — one backdropped by significant moments in India's history, like Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination and the country's 1983 Cricket World Cup win — to a group of strangers on a train.
Critics calling for boycott
It took Khan eight years to acquire the remake rights to Forrest Gump. Laal Singh Chaddha, which was released around the world on Thursday, has been the target of a campaign to boycott the film, after remarks that Khan made seven years ago resurfaced on social media.
Khan, who is Muslim and plays a Sikh man in Laal Singh Chaddha, said during a 2015 event that "intolerance" within the political climate in India was taking its toll on his family. He said it especially affected his then-wife, Kiran Rao.
"Kiran and I have lived all our lives in India. For the first time, she said, should we move out of India? That's a disastrous and big statement for Kiran to make to me. She fears for her child," Khan had said.
The comments were interpreted as anti-Hindu, especially with supporters of India's current prime minister, Narendra Modi, the leader of the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, which espouses a form of Hindu nationalism.
Khan was referring to increased violence against India's religious minorities, including Muslims and Sikhs. The actor later explained that his words were taken out of context: "I love my country," he said in 2016.
WATCH | The trailer for Laal Singh Chaddha, Bollywood's take on Forrest Gump:
During his interview with CBC News, Khan said that he and his contemporaries are used to the backlash.
"The fact is that so many films get trolled and so many celebrities get trolled," he said, noting that there are active hashtags calling for boycotts of other Bollywood films and the Hindi cinema industry in general. "I guess, you know, we don't react to all of this."
"So while there are some people who would like to boycott us … I'm hoping the larger percentage of people are people who would like to watch the film."
American and Indian cinema can learn from each other
Laal Singh Chaddha is a nearly scene-by-scene remake of Forrest Gump – "Run, Laal, run!" yells Rupa during several pivotal moments — and it's not the first time that Khan has made a Hindi film for Indian audiences with Hollywood in mind.
He starred in the 1995 film Aatank Hi Aatank, which was inspired by The Godfather; that same year, his film Akele Hum Akele Tum was released and was a loose adaptation of Kramer vs. Kramer. 2008's Ghajini is based on Christopher Nolan's film Memento.
Khan says that both American and Indian cinema — a term he prefers over Bollywood, which is slightly limited in that it refers to the Hindi cinema industry based in Mumbai — can learn from each other.
"Indian cinema, I think, has a lot to learn from American cinema, I think in terms of its language of storytelling, in terms of its technical advances," Khan said. He said that other industries can benefit from Indian cinema's positive outlook and scale.
"Hope is a very important part of our lives, and that is something which is a very important ingredient in our films, in a sense, other than the fact that most of the films are musicals. So music, and kind of a sweep in the storytelling — slightly larger than life."
As Laal Singh Chaddha opens globally, including on 350 screens in the U.K., a record-breaking number for an Indian movie, Khan hopes that the film gives unfamiliar audiences a sense of Indian history and culture.
"I'd also like audiences from outside of India to see the beauty of the country. I think that's something that we … had an opportunity to showcase."
With files from The Associated Press