High hopes on Forrest Gump remake

One of India's biggest stars is banking on a remake of Hollywood feelgood hit Forrest Gump to revive the fortunes of Hindi-language Bollywood, after a string of weak box-office showings.

Aamir Khan's Laal Singh Chaddha, an adaptation of the 1994 US classic starring Tom Hanks, hit cinemas on Thursday, ahead of India's 75th Independence Day on Aug 15.

Disappointing takings for other Bollywood A-listers have cast a pall over an industry still recovering from Covid-19 lockdown losses when many in movie-mad India turned to streaming giants like Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar.

The adaptation keeps several iconic scenes from the original - which bagged six Oscars including for Best Picture - such as a floating white feather, ping-pong playing and lots of running.

But there are several changes, with Gump's "box of chocolates" line becoming: "Life is just like a golgappa. Your tummy might feel full, but your heart always craves more."

Golgappa is a popular Indian snack, while the second half of the saying - "you never know what you're gonna get" in the original - draws from a common Hindi phrase.

The film promises to take people through India's history in the same way Gump stumbled through and influenced major US events like the Vietnam War.

This could irk Indian right-wing critics who have already called for a boycott of the film because of comments made by Aamir in 2015, which were deemed to be unpatriotic.

Aamir, the star of mega-hit Dangal (2016), and screenwriter Atul Kulkarni were coy about comments on the Indian historical settings being featured. Kulkarni would only say that his script was a "beautiful story about a beautiful country called India through a beautiful person called Laal Singh".

Aamir, 57, admitted that he initially put off reading Kulkarni's script, uncertain of adapting a "cult classic".

"It's like saying we are remaking Mughal-e-Azam and Mother India. It's not a wise thing to do," he said, referring to two Indian classics.

"But when I heard the script, I understood he's done it. It was a moving experience for me. I really loved it. The moment I heard, it I wanted to do this."

Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor, 41, who plays Singh's life-long friend Rupa, based on Robin Wright's Jenny Curran, said the plot was "timeless" with a love story at its core.

"I wondered how they would play around such an iconic film," said Telugu star Naga Chaitanya, who plays Bala, an adaptation of Gump's shrimp-fishing buddy Bubba.

"But the way they conceived the film for Indian cinema is unique."

Recent silver-screen hits did not come from Bollywood but other Indian languages, such as action flicks Pushpa, KGF: Chapter 2 and RRR.

RRR, released in March, raked in US$87 million domestically, while KGF: Chapter 2, which debuted a few weeks later, took in US$106 million, media analyst Karan Taurani of Mumbai-based Elara Capital said.

Action film Shamshera, released on July 22 and starring Bollywood actor Ranbir Kapoor, has made only US$5.6 million, dashing hopes it would lure audiences back to Hindi cinema.

A rare Bollywood hit this year has been comedy horror Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2, released on May 20. It featured rising star Kartik Aryan and raked in US$24 million.

All eyes are on Laal Singh Chaddha and family dramedy Raksha Bandhan with Bollywood megastar Akshay Kumar, also released on Thursday.

Taurani estimates that Laal Singh Chaddha will make US$19 million, falling short of Aamir's per-film average of US$35 million.

Aamir, who co-produced Laal Singh Chaddha, believes Bollywood hasn't lost its mojo, blaming the early release of movies on streaming services for lower box-office takings.

"I feel that perhaps we - including myself - as Hindi filmmakers, need to pick topics that are relevant to a larger audience," he said.


"I feel that perhaps we - including myself - as Hindi filmmakers, need to pick topics that are relevant to a larger audience."

- Aamir Khan

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