Forrest Gump, the 1994 Oscar-winning film, has often been described as a true American story. The film is as much a man’s story as it is the journey of the nation. So it sounds unusual to adapt it in another country. But that’s what Atul Kulkarni managed to do. The actor will be screenwriter with Laal Singh Chaddha, starring Aamir Khan. Atul talks to Hindustan Times about the ‘discouraging’ task of modifying Forrest Gump and why Aamir refused to read the script for two years. Also read: Aamir Khan Retained No ‘Adult Scenes From Forrest Gump’ In Laal Singh Chaddha
The genesis of the adaptation took place in 2008 after the premiere of Aamir’s production Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na. Atul Kulkarni recalls: “There was a premiere, after which we went to Aamir’s house. And during the chat over dinner, the subject of favorite movies came up. We both called Forrest Gump. The next day I was supposed to shoot outside for 10-15 days, but it was cancelled. I saw the Forrest Gump DVD at my house and it was fresh in my mind so as I had some spare time I decided to watch it. After a while I wondered if this incident had happened in India, when it would start and I started taking notes. An hour through the film I said why not try a screenplay.”
Thanks to the free time he had due to the canceled shoot, Atul wrote the first draft in just 10 days and a second draft in the remaining four days. “I realized after 10 days that I had completed the script. I did the second draft in the next 3-4 days. I didn’t realize I had written the script until after I did it. It all started with a random discussion between two actors,” he says with a laugh.
But his hardships had only just begun. When he approached Aamir with his script, the actor simply did not give him time for a lecture. ‘For the first two years, Aamir didn’t read the script. It’s not that we hadn’t met or that we weren’t in touch. All the time he said, ‘haan padhte hain (yes, we will do a lecture)’,” Atul says. Finally, a frustrated Atul asked his friend and former co-star about the delay and Aamir immediately dropped a bomb on him. Atul says: “After a few years I asked him when we will read. And then said let me confess something. He said, ‘You are not a writer and you tell me you wrote an adaptation of Forrest Gump in 15 days You’re a good friend and I don’t want to disappoint you by saying you’ve written really badly.” That’s why he didn’t listen to the script.”
Atul convinced Aamir to give him a lecture by saying that he didn’t care if Aamir “destroyed” the script after the lecture. As it turned out, Aamir liked it so much that he decided to not only act, but also produce the film. But the delays weren’t over yet. Atul says the next decade was spent getting the rights to Forrest Gump from Paramount Pictures. “He also started getting in touch with Paramount for the rights of the original and it went on for 10 years. That really took time,” he says.
Aamir’s look as Laal in the film is a hot topic of discussion, especially his long-bearded avatar and traditional Sikh turban. Asked if keeping that look was a conscious effort to make the film as Indian as possible, Atul said: “There’s a lot to say, but if I do, I’ll ruin it for the audience. But I can. saying that every little detail has a reason in the movie.” However, he admits that Aamir’s Punjabi lines in the film are something he didn’t write originally. “It wasn’t in the writing. Of course the Sikh character was there, but I had all the dialogue written in Hindi. But Aamir and Advait thought he should speak in Punjabi, so my dialogue was translated into Punjabi,” Atul says.
One of the most talked about phrases in the trailer is the gol gappa version of Forrest Gump’s iconic “life is like a box of chocolates.” Atul says: “My final version was written in 15 days. As bizarre as it may sound, it is true. There have been additions, but that particular line is in the original script. There were no versions of it.”
Since its release in 1994, Forrest Gump has achieved a beloved status worldwide. It is safe to say that millions of people have watched it from generation to generation, including many in India. Some wonder if those fans should bother to watch Laal Singh Chaddha. Atul replies, “Actually, you’d struggle to find what isn’t new. This is a complete desi family movie. Those who have seen Forrest Gump know that it is impossible to recreate the film. You have to rewrite. The adaptation is from the screenplay. But nothing can compare because no US references can be applied to India. There is nothing in common except the characters. The basic spirit is what you might see: the journey of an extremely innocent man.”
Laal Singh Chaddha also features Kareena Kapoor, Mona Singh and Naga Chaitanya. Produced by Aamir Khan Productions, Kiran Rao and Viacom18 Studios, the film will be released on August 11, 2022.