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Based on their mostly unfortunate track record, with a few commendable exceptions, it seems almost justifiably instinctual to decry any company’s attempt to pursue English-language remakes of celebrated titles in other tongues and from other geographical settings.

But when the opposite phenomenon occurs, and a filmmaker abroad takes on a new version of a Hollywood property, the resulting effort can turn out just as disappointing.

Enter “Laal Singh Chaddha,” the Indian reimagining of Robert Zemeckis’ “Forrest Gump,” a financially successful and Oscar-winning drama that has lost its luster in the years since it was released in 1994, the more its blatantly questionable tropes are reexamined .

From director Advait Chandan and with famed actor Aamir Khan (“3 Idiots”) in the title role, this proficiently executed adaptation suffers from many of the same core issues as its predecessor, which renders it nearly inevitable for one not to engage with the film via recurrent comparison, despite deliberate attempts at meaningful reinvention in the form of culturally specific changes and historical context.

On a train heading to an important encounter, Laal carries not a box of chocolates but a box of golgappa (a popular savory snack), not because you never know what you are going to get when you open it, but because once you have one , even if you are full, you want more. That twist in the hero’s philosophy seems to speak not about the randomness of existence, but about a lust for life that helps him endure the immense loss he will experience.

Retelling his life story from when he was a boy born to an affluent Sikh family where the men have fought in major wars throughout history, he charms his fellow passengers. Not that Tom Hanks’ performance of him as Forrest could ever be hailed as a paragon of subtle acting, but Khan’s interpretation of the character borders on parody. The exaggerated facial expressions and laughter read as disparagingly theatrical, even if that’s not their intent.

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As we learn about the bullying he endured and how his mother protected his self-esteem by not noting his differences, what becomes evident, more than his own outlook on his journey, is the way others see him –either with pity or disgust. Scenes with Laal’s perpetual romantic interest since childhood, Rupa (Kareena Kapoor), who dismisses his marriage proposals from her over the years in the same maternalistic manner that a parent might react to a child’s wild imagination, reaffirm that most people around infantilize him.

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What remains troubling about the essence of the premise, regardless of its language and cultural context, is that it insinuates the protagonist’s disposition for good and kindness derives from his cognitive disability, assuming that neurotypical people would never behave with such human decency and placing a halo. of inherent sainthood on Laal.

His unspecified condition endows him not with a strong moral compass that he’s aware of, but with an obliviousness to move through the world without noticing most of its malice. And as much as the creators of either version might believe this to be a loving and flattering portrayal, in truth it has always been reductive and condescending.

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Just as Forrest did, Laal eventually goes to war and makes a best friend during the conflict, Bala (Naga Chaitanya Akkineni), who inspires him to start a business of his own — in this case involving not shrimp but undergarments. The consequences of “malaria,” as Laal refers to war and the spread of violence in general, feel closer and thus more significant in impact than in the source text by novelist Winston Groom, in turn adapted by Eric Roth.

While the Vietnam War was happening thousands of miles away from the US territory, here the fighting and destruction took place across religious lines within the same country. One early scene shows Laal as a boy with his mother hiding from a mob going after all Sikhs in the aftermath of the murder of leader Indira Gandhi. To protect him from persecution, she desperately removes the boy’s patka and cuts his hair.

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Screenwriter Atul Kulkarni’s decision to speak about the possibility of unity in India, or at least to see one’s enemies as people with similar hopes and fears, stands as the most compelling narrative transformation in “Laal.” To that virtuous ideological end, Brother Muhammed (Manav Vij), a Muslim fighter Laal saves from dying, replaces Lieutenant Dan. Their interreligious friendship illustrates the film’s message of tolerance.

Those most familiar with the original Best Picture winner will likely catch themselves searching for its best remembered elements, including the scene where Gump receives a medal from President Lyndon B. Johnson, and will notice some of the less obvious additions to the saga, such as Rupa’s life meets a tragic end less punitive than Jenny’s.

Chandan works with enough resources that allow for production value, making use of multiple musically driven montages to advance the expansive plot, which ultimately delivers a visually pristine and idyllic movie that’s just as saccharine in tone as the problematic 1990s classic. Aside from how unnecessary remakes tend to be, what’s imperative is to consider whether a story with such a simplistically offensive depiction of disability as an enchanting characteristic can have a place in today’s world, as we collectively try to move away from unchallenged amusement that thinks it’s uplifting even as it punches down.

“Laal Singh Chaddha” opens in theaters worldwide August 11.


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