NEW DELHI: Pinning down one of Bollywood’s biggest superstars for a sit down interview (virtual) is akin to signing up for a frenzied time-bound rocket launch mission. The countdown begins the moment the cameras are switched on and the initial pleasantries are rushed through to ensure every nanosecond within the meagre 6 minutes allotted for the conversation with the Laal Singh Chaddha star is fully utilised.
Currently in the eye of a storm courtesy a highly subjective 2015 comment made by the actor that has been dredged up by the ever vigilante social media trolls and escalated into a #BoycottLaalSinghChaddha trend ahead of the release of his latest movie, Aamir is placid when we catch up with him. Considering his propensity to land into heated socio-political debates in an industry where melodrama often seeps from reel to real, the 57-year old actor assures us he’s used to the trolling by now.
Known to deliver many thought-provoking cinema that compels one to question the status quo, long after one has walked out of the theatres, be it the much loved 3 Idiots (2009) or the controversial PK (2014), his upcoming release sees the seasoned artist wade into unchartered territory. Laal Singh Chaddha is the official remake of the 1994 Academy Award winning Forrest Gump based on a 1986 novel by the same name. Starring Tom Hanks in the lead, the Hollywood motion picture went on to win critical acclaim for director Robert Zemeckis, writer Eric Roth and the cast including Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Sally Field and Mykelti Williamson.
The Bollywood version may have come in for scepticism from fans initially who wondered how a cult Western movie could be remade for Indian sensibilities, but Aamir asserts the movie is as Indian as it can be.
Starring Khan in the lead, the Advait Chandan (Secret Superstar) directorial, with a screenplay adapted by Atul Kulkarni and Eric Roth, follows the story of a simpleton, Laal Singh Chaddha, whose life of tribulation and optimism plays out alongside some of modern India’s most historic moments. Kareena Kapoor Khan plays his childhood sweetheart Rupa, whose love propels Laal’s life and the themes of destiny and choice brim over in this life-affirming story. The movie which stars Mona Singh and Naga Chaitanya also boasts a cameo from another Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan.
Excerpts from a hurried yet insightful conversation with Aamir ahead of the release of Laal Singh Chaddha on August 11.
Laal Singh Chaddha has taken you 14 years to bring to the screen. What makes the arduous journey worthwhile for an artist like you?
This is a very special story. I remember when I had seen Forrest Gump in the 90s, I had just fallen in love with it. It’s such a beautiful story and such a beautiful character. But at that time I had never thought I’d make an adaptation of it for India. In fact I’d never imagined it could be adapted because it is so intrinsically American in its culture; it’s so deeply rooted in American culture. When I heard Atul’s (Kulkarni) adaptation, it took me by surprise because he has done an amazing job of adapting it to Indian culture.
In fact when I heard it, I thought I was listening to an Indian story; that’s how well he had adapted it. That’s what really got me excited and I thought we should definitely make this film. I really wanted Indian audiences to experience the power and strength of innocence. Usually our heroes are physically strong or they have moral strength and they fight for justice, but here’s a guy who’s just innocent — he just is — and there’s such simplicity and beauty in that.
There are bound to be comparisons with Forrest Gump, but you have played Laal Singh like only Aamir Khan can. How challenging was it to avoid copying Tom Hanks’ physicality for this movie?
It wasn’t difficult because I didn’t ever refer to the original while prepping for this film. I loved Tom Hanks’ performance but when I heard the script of Laal Singh Chaddha and what Atul had adapted, it was for me a slightly different film, it was not the same anymore. It had an energy of its own and I would even go so far as to say Laal is slightly different from Forrest. The way he is written also, he is different from Forrest. In essence he is the same person, and he has the same spirit and issues, but being an Indian makes him slightly different. So I just focused on what was in front of me and what Atul had written as opposed to referring to the original. Neither Advait (Chandan, director) nor I did that.
Laal Singh Chaddha is a brilliant adaptation by Atul Kulkarni. Do you like to refer to it as an official remake or adaptation?
I’d say it is an adaptation. So we got the rights to remake the film, but it doesn’t make sense to remake it as it is. It won’t fit into our context, so certainly it is an adaptation. We have tried to retain the spirit and heart of the film.
How do your react to the initial scepticism about remaking a cult classic?
I completely agree with that reaction. Even I’d have reacted the same way if someone had told me he’s remaking Forrest Gump. It’s not such a wise thing to try and remake such a cult classic.
There will be comparisons surely but when I heard the adaptation, all of these thoughts didn’t come to me. I just felt attracted to what I heard and I wanted to be a part of it.
You have shared screen space with Kareena Kapoor Khan earlier too. As a co-actor what does she bring to the set that appeals to the actor in you?
She’s just amazing to work with. She so smoothly gets into the skin of the character and loses herself in the shot when she is giving it and that’s such a wonderful quality. She is also an extremely generous actor. She’s very giving as an actor. She’s a beautiful human being, a lovely person, so it’s great to work with her.
As an artist who has contributed so many great movies to the Bollywood pantheon, how do you avoid being weighed down by all this criticism, the trolling and the boycott issue…
Well, I’m not on social media! That helps because I don’t get to read all of this. But I get to hear of it and I do feel sad when I get trolled; it doesn’t feel nice but I guess that’s part of life now with social media being there. I remember Dangal was trolled as well and I remember Secret Superstar was trolled too. Almost anything I do is trolled, so I guess I have to live with it now.