Bollywood megastar Aamir Khan’s “Hanks-ish likability” is tested to the limit by his new project with his Secret Superstar director Advait Chandan: a Hindi remake of Forrest Gump, late 20th-century Hollywood’s pre-eminent Rorschach blot. Sending Gump eastwards opens new channels of history and culture with screenwriter Atul Kulkarni swapping in golgappa for chocolate boxes. Yet the source has largely been swallowed whole: the CG feather, the sappy score, the picaresque storytelling and parkbench philosophy, the running with and without callipers. Assiduously replicating its predecessor’s strengths and weaknesses, the one thing it risks is that a three-word summary – Hindi Forrest Gump – would tell you all you ever needed to know about it.
Tweaks of emphasis do become apparent. Unloading his frankly exhausting life story onto Chandigarh’s unluckiest commuters, Khan’s title character emerges as an even bigger momma’s boy than Gump, closer in spirit and relentless commentary style to Kids in the Hall’s precocious oddbod Gavin. With Aids deemed so last century, a possessive sugar daddy conspires to remove Laal’s sweetheart Rupa (Kareena Kapoor, bringing great warmth to Xerox-flat characterisation) from sight. And there are more potshots at Indian militarism than expected: Laal’s forefathers fall victim to successive border disputes in a tonally jarring prologue, while our hero’s service prompts a few chuckles, suggesting how easily unblinking conformism and sheer dumb luck are mistaken for heroism. This version is happier admitting to its (mildly peaceable) politics than the cagey, bet-hedging original, which is a positive of sorts.
Certain scenes work well. The running is still funny; Khan remains supremely physically expressive. Making the amputee pal a reformed fundamentalist (Manav Vij) is interesting, although the hands-across-the-temple-aisle editorial feels watered down compared with Khan’s puckish religious satire PK. Laal Singh Chaddha is far from the worst Hindification of a Hollywood property: it consolidates the basic competency that Chandan demonstrated in Secret Superstar without achieving the genuine magic that the earlier film conjured from well-worn material. Few could blame Khan for playing safe in the face of renewed personal attacks and weaponised hashtags. But his best films have taken stands of various kinds; here, he’s running a little scared.
• Laal Singh Chaddha is released on 12 August in cinemas