Forrest Gump, the Oscar-winning 1994 film, has often been described as a true-blue American story.
The film is as much the story of a man as it is the journey of the nation. So, to adapt it in a different country sounds unusual. But that is what Atul Kulkarni has managed. The actor is turning screenwriter with Laal Singh Chaddha, which stars Aamir Khan in lead. Atul talks to Hindustan Times about the 'daunting' task of adapting Forrest Gump and why Aamir refused to read the script for two full years.
The genesis of the adaptation took place back 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 place. And during the chat over dinner, the subject of favourite films came up. We both mentioned Forrest Gump. The next day, I was to go for an outdoor shoot for 10-15 days, which got cancelled. I saw the Forrest Gump DVD at my home and it was fresh in my mind, so since I had free time, I decided to watch it. After some time, I wondered if this incident took place in India, when would it begin and I began taking notes. One hour through the film, I said why not attempt a screenplay."
Thanks to the free time he had due to the cancelled shoot, Atul wrote the first draft in just 10 days and a second draft in the remaining four days. "I realised after 10 days, I had completed the script. I did the second draft over the next 3-4 days. I only realised I had written the script after I had done it. It all started with a random discussion between two actors," he says with a laugh.
But his hardships were just beginning. As he approached Aamir with his script, the actor just didn't give him time for a reading. "First two years, Aamir didn't read the script. It's not that we were not meeting or we weren't in touch. All the time, he would say, 'haan padhte hain (yes we will do a reading)'," shares Atul. Eventually, a frustrated Atul asked his friend and former co-star about the delay and Aamir promptly dropped a bombshell on him. Atul says, "After a couple of years, I asked him when will we read. And then said let me confess something. He said, 'you are not a writer and you tell me you have written a Forrest Gump adaptation in 15 days. You are a close friend and I don't want to disappoint you by saying you have written very badly'. That's why he wasn't listening to the script."
Atul did convince Aamir to give him a reading by saying he didn't care if Aamir 'trashed' the script after the reading. As it turns out, Aamir liked it so much he decided to not just act in but also produce the film. But the delays weren't over. Atul says the next decade was spent in getting the rights of Forrest Gump from Paramount Pictures. "He also started getting in touch with Paramount for the rights of the original and that is what took 10 years. That is what really took time," he says.
Aamir's look as Laal in the film has been a hot topic of discussion, particularly his avatar in long beard and the traditional Sikh turban. When asked if keeping that look was a deliberate attempt to make the film as Indian as possible, Atul says, "There is a lot to say but if I do I will be spoiling it for the audience. But I can say, every small detail has a reason in the film." However, he does concede that Aamir's Punjabi lines in the film are something he didn't originally write. "That was not in the writing. Of course, the Sikh character was there but I had written all the dialogue in Hindi. But Aamir and Advait felt he should be speaking in Punjabi. So my dialogue were translated in Punjabi," says Atul.
One of the most-talked about lines in the trailer is the gol gappa version of Forrest Gump's iconic 'life is like a box of chocolates'. Talking about it, Atul says, "My final draft was written in 15 days. However bizarre 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 attained a beloved status worldwide. It's safe to say millions of people across generations have watched it, including many in India too. Some are wondering if those fans should bother watching Laal Singh Chaddha. Atul responds, "Actually, you would struggle to find what's not new. This is a complete desi family film. Those who have seen Forrest Gump would know it is impossible to remake the film. You have to rewrite. The adaptation is of the screenplay. But nothing can be similar because no references of US can be applied to India. There is nothing that is common except the characters. The basic spirit is what you would be able to see--the journey of an extremely innocent man."
Laal Singh Chaddha also stars Kareena Kapoor, Mona Singh, and Naga Chaitanya. The film, produced by Aamir Khan Productions, Kiran Rao, and Viacom18 Studios, will be released on 11 August 2022.