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Introduction 

Laal Singh Chaddha has taken the internet by storm and stirred up quite a hornet’s nest. The air surrounding the movie’s release was ominous, even before its release and the same was confirmed after so. The audience has been reactive towards Laal Singh Chaddha but probably not in the way Aamir Khan intended. A product of 15 years' worth of labor and the recreation of one of Hollywood’s most beloved films, Laal Singh Chaddha has undoubtedly broken barriers. The only underlying question is though, were these barriers meant to be broken at all, or are we just not ready for it? 

This article will take you through the various aspects involved in the production and reception of Laal Singh Chaddha. 

Forrest Gump-Laal Singh Chaddha

The 1994 Hollywood Drama, Forrest Gump is a looked-up-to revered film in film fraternities, transcending borders. Having won 6 academy awards, good recreations and adaptations are hard to come by, because the standard has been set that high. Bollywood however, took up the challenge to present this intriguing dichotomy of a movie with political overtones, led by an apolitical protagonist. 

Cut to the contemporary, where Laal Singh Chaddha is facing such backlash, shouldn't be such a surprise. Movies with any political significance hardly thrive in India, because they either satisfy the polarised views of the majority or focus solely on the struggles of the minority. If and when (a rarity) a movie attempts to be “objective” or “neutral” (both being myths), it is usually criticized for being simply ignorant. Laal Singh Chaddha however, has managed to dabble into almost all three of these areas. 

The reason Laal Singh Chaddha doesn't translate well to the Indian demographic is that the script has been adopted, with the primary goal of maintaining the plot’s sanctity. During this process though, the context has been lost. The movie intends to tell the story of a marginalized India, making Laal (Aamir Khan) a Sikh man, the protagonist, and Rupa (Kareena Kapoor Khan) his innocent, unknowing sweetheart. 

The movie does have instances where the privilege to the original is accorded while maintaining relatability to the local. For example, like Forrest inspired Elvis Presley, Laal inspires Shahrukh Khan, teaching him his iconic pose. 

The movie dotes on historic events, like the militancy that Punjab witnessed, followed by the communal riots that took place after Indira Gandhi's assassination. It also takes us through the and the demotion of the Babri Masjid. The difference between Forrest Gump and its Bollywood counterpart is that Gump, a simple-minded man slyly denounces racism, segregation, and white supremacy while Chaddha’s contribution to such events is his mere presence, possibly to establish a chronology, but nothing more. 

Even the chronology seems very selective in a way that it cut corners and took away from the eventual grandeur it could've led to. Chaddha thus, unlike Gump, adds almost no value to these historic events. Moreover, the movie is a constant back and forth, which gets really old really fast for the audience. The reason I say this is because there are scenes of comedic relief as well as emotional significance, but they’re quickly diluted when out-of-context, weak storylines take over. For instance, the line where Laal likens religion to a disease (mazhab and malaria) makes for something the viewer can take back home and dwell on. The impact of this is further enhanced by Aamir Khan’s versatility and his reputation for dealing with emotionally charged scenes with grace, however, Laal’s simple-mindedness takes on religion so profoundly, that it is hard not to draw a parallel to PK, another social commentary on society and religion, led by Mr.Khan. The aforementioned “dilution” refers to the fact that in Forrest Gump, after the Vietnam war, Gump starts his own business. Now, this was a natural progression for Gump, because, at the time, capitalism dominated the American economy, and back then (since then, really) capitalism and patriotism have been synonymous in The States. However, when Chaddha does the same after returning from the Kargil War, the meaning doesn't quite stay the same, because the Indian economy at the time was still reeling from the effects of Liberalisation. 

While a layman, who watches the film without the knowledge of it being an official remake, would chalk it up to a facetious parody, the film deserves credit where it's due. The choice of remaking the film was in itself a brave choice, with some parts of it challenging the status quo. The reason why this film and its roots aren’t as concrete is that India and its identity, especially during the time-depicted was anything but. 

Controversy 

Aamir Khan landed himself in legal trouble a day after the release of Laal Singh Chaddha. Delhi-based advocate Vineet Jindal has submitted an FIR against Khan, Paramount Pictures, director Advait Chandan, and several others for allegedly ‘disrespecting the Indian Army and hurting Hindu Sentiments.

The FIR was filed under sections 153 (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups), 298 (wounding the religious feelings of any person), and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief).

Moreover, Khan has received backlash on Twitter, particularly from English cricketer Monty Panesar, claiming that the movie brings disgrace to the recruitment process of the Indian army. The base of this “controversy” lies in the fact that the American Military “drafted” men during the Vietnam War because they simply required a large number of bodes to fill their army. The Indian Army, however, didn't follow the same process. Indian soldiers went through formal recruitment and rigorous training in order to be deemed fit to fight in the Kargil War. The implication that Chaddha, a man with below average IQ ( a moron, as Panesar said) played a part in one of India’s most celebrated victories against Pakistan called into question Khan’s patriotism and intentions to defame the Indian Army. 

Legal Aspect 

1.    Section 153 

Section 153 of the Indian Penal Code awards a punishment of imprisonment up to one year, a fine, or both. The section prescribes such punishment if the accused is held guilty of maliciously provoking a riot. It says- Whoever malignantly, or wantonly, by doing anything which is illegal, gives provocation to any person intending or knowing it to be likely that such provocation will cause the offense of rioting to be committed.

2.    Section 298

Section 298 of the Indian Penal Code takes within its purview deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any individual. The section says that by uttering words, using gestures, or making any sounds, if an individual hurts the religious sentiments of another, they will be liable to be punished with im¬prisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.

3.    Section 505 

Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code awards punishments to individuals partaking in statements leading to public mischief. It says-

(1) ] Whoever makes, publishes, or circulates any statement, rumor, or report,—

(a) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any offi¬cer, soldier, [sailor or airman] in the Army, [Navy or Air Force] [of India] to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty as such; or

(b) with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offense against the State or against the public tranquility; or

(c) with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commffense against any other class or community, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both. [(2) Statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred, or ill-will between classes.—Whoever makes, publishes, or circulates any statement or report containing rumor or alarming news with intent to create or promote, or which is likely to create or promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different reli¬gious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communi¬ties, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.

The Boycott Trend 

The growing intolerance amongst the Indian diaspora is almost alarming. Laal Singh Chaddha isn't exhibit-1, many movies before have been on the receiving end of this “boycott trend” or “cancel culture”, on account of them being either historically inaccurate or polarising. All these grounds though can be watered down to mere offense taken by a community, in light of any movie. More often than not, this “offense” is not well-grounded and creates more chaos than necessary. 

This “cancel culture” comes from a place of eccentric criticism and more accurately, “censor-culture”. In a country as diverse as ours, it is absolutely lethal to have one strong socially constructed “reality”, which is aesthetically pleasing to the majority, dictate these censor norms. 

This culture of boycott creates ostracism towards even the biggest of celebrities, all in the matter of a few seconds, enabled by social media sites, particularly Twitter. This concept which originated in the West was witnessed by India even before we formally acknowledged it. Cancel Culture truly reached its pinnacle soon after actor Sushant Singh Rajput committed suicide. Many celebrities came forth to condemn his death, offer their condolences and express their shock at his untimely demise, and although nothing that would give an indication of Sushant's feelings of hurt owing to the fraternity at large was retrieved, the very same celebrities were subjected to a rather ruthless media trial. Debates surrounding nepotism, mental health, and the treatment of “outsiders” made headlines for longer than they should have. Even actors such as Alia Bhatt and Ranbir Kapoor, arguably two of the biggest megastars that Bollywood houses, face routine trolling by virtue of them being born into film families. But the problem is not these issues in their entirety. The problem lies in the way these “debates” are conducted, in a manner that is just as constructive and conducive to an accepting environment as fuel is to a burning house. 

The grounds of these “trials” and these apparent “cancellations” are rather flimsy. There is absolutely no dearth of trolls and hate mongers on social media sites, acting as an unwanted catalyst in this phenomenon of growing intolerance. While as active consumers of content, it is our obligation to engage in conversation regarding the same, the subjects and language employed for the very purpose are being blown out of epic proportions. For instance, In 2020, Chapaak, produced by Deepika Padukone received brutal flak from netizens. The story was that of an acid attack survivor, trying to rebuild her identity and find her way through a world that had now, ostracized her. However, even before the release of the movie, Padukone was subjected to death and rape threats merely because she showed solidarity towards anti- CAA protestors at the time. Much more recently, Kareena Kapoor Khan was subjected to hate comments and threats only because she allegedly asked for INR 120 million for playing the role of Sita in the upcoming movie Ramayana. The hatemongers went to the extent of dragging her 2-year-old son into the controversy. Netizens justified their hatred towards khan by expressing their need to protect “Indian values” and not allowing a Muslim actress to play a Hindu goddess. 

Thus, cancel culture, as a movement, while growing rapidly, has started to lose its credibility. 

Having the ability to speak and using the very ability to speak wisely have a hairline difference, the impact of which, however, can be felt profoundly. The growing intolerance that I mention time and again has gotten so out of hand that trolls and netizens constantly come up with new grounds to belittle and trivialize Bollywood productions and actors. For instance, the growing trend nowadays is pitting local industries against the mammoth that is Bollywood. For a long time, it was assumed that either Bollywood subsumes these micro industries like the south Indian film industry or the Punjab film industry, or that Bollywood shuns them out. For as far as I could trace back in the history of cinema, no formal harmonious relationship ever existed between the Hindi film industry and other miscellaneous film industries. The apparent “hate” isn't linear or unilateral either (linear being Bollywood simply looking down on its counterparts), it is quite a two-way street. For instance, Bengali Cinema considers itself supreme, on account of its “artsy” and noir movies. Marathi cinema too has carved a niche for its social commentaries and scripts crafted with care and lyricism. 

Coming to the contemporary, the new, and rather bizarre (if I may) concept of Bollywood v The South is coming to the fore. Since time immemorial, the Hindi film industry has been considered a part of the dominant or mass culture, since it was the only industry that facilitated mass production and mass consumption. It was also the only industry that readily and almost routinely manufactured superstars like Dev Anand, Dilip Kumar, Amitabh Bachchan, and more recently, Shahrukh Khan. The South Indian film industry too witnessed the ascendancy and supremacy of superstars like Rajnikanth and Chiranjeevi, but their stardom was considered a rarity. While studying this facetious rivalry, however, the consumers of the dominant fail to fully grasp the surreal extent of their stardom (of the latter). It is worth mentioning that Srinivas SV once wrote a piece titled “Devotion and Defiance” on the herculean stardom acquired by Chiranjeevi, the delves into the various facets of his life. An unofficial extension of the same article would be the phase witnessed by Southern Cinema after Chiranjeevi’s death, which left ripples throughout the Kannada industry and led to mass suicides throughout the southern sub-continent. 

Point is, that this “debate” is usually quite biased because agents usually don't comprehend the power that industries other than Bollywood possess. Recently though, comparisons between native movies and their Hindi adaptations have led to this culture of cancellation. The two most relevant and talked about examples are Arjun Reddy v Kabir Singh and Sairat v Dhadak. Even before these recreations were released, they were mocked just by virtue of them being unoriginal. The entire point of these recreations, however, was to reach a wider audience, since even though subtitles, captions, and dubbing can help the willing audience stream native content without fully obliterating the regional element they so gracefully carry, a significant portion of the same audience prefers to view these movies with familiar faces and in their own mother tongue. In instances like these, criticism is valid and crudely, expected too. But to entirely cancel a movie is an extreme reaction, that the netizens need to be held accountable for. 

While some people say that this “internal aggression” is a fallout of the covid lockdown, it is not the prerogative of consumers to publish profanities by means of social media. However, this phenomenon is not recent. Released in the 1900s, Dev Anand’s “Guide” and Shashi Kapur’s “Siddhartha” have majestic tangents which can be studied in detail to understand the development of sub-cultures, acculturation, and most importantly, cancel culture (even before it was a thing). “Guide” witnessed several protests because it showcased the infidelity of a woman, leading to a delay in the release of the movie. “Siddhartha” on the other hand, showcased Simi Grewal nude, creating contention among the audience absolutely instantly. This culture of cancellation has grown to be likened to quicksand; it spares absolutely no one and only the very skilled can escape it. As responsible social media users, the onus lies on each one of us to be mindful of the kind of content we post, repost, and share, and the language our content carries.

Conclusion

The “woke culture” was a wave everyone succinctly surfed on for quite a while, and while it was in vogue a little while ago it has given way globally to the cancel culture. The initial focus of this woke culture and cancel culture was to create awareness or bring about radical justice by means of controlling and regulating the consumption of content produced by A-list celebrities. For example, when Rihanna came forward with evidence of abuse at the behest of rapper Chris Rock, social media was quick to react by way of unfollowing Rock, boycotting his concerts, and ceasing to buy his records. However, this culture has since morphed into penalizing celebrities if their choices of movies, lifestyle, and even wardrobe are different from what an individual considers “moral” or “decent”. 

 It is hypocritical for us to blame Bollywood for producing and reproducing the same scripts with the same hybrid genres, showcasing absolutely no trace of originality: when as the audience, we put the movie agents in fear for their careers after any ever-so-slightly different project is made available. Debate, discourse, and regulation of this “culture” is the only way an industry, which thrives on its creativity can truly succeed without having to walk on eggshells. This will also go a long way in ensuring that we showcase the diversity we harbor in real, just as harmoniously via reel. 
 


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