Dear Aamir Khan sir,
The device of writing an open letter is a cliche, but since we are on the topic of Lal Singh Chadda let me excuse myself by saying that “open letter” is not the most unoriginal thing in this sentence.
The reason I am writing this letter is to tell you I won’t be watching Lal Singh Chadda. That decision has nothing to do with your political stance or because Bollywood is supposedly evil.
It is because Lal Singh Chadda is tepid and boring, from its concept to its conceit and the fact that even a 150-second trailer, which can be made to look much more exciting than the movie, could not hide how terrible it is. That, sir, says something about the quality of your product. I apologize, but I cannot sit through another three hours of you regurgitating your PK expressions to show “simplicity”, and maybe I will end up missing a masterpiece, but hey, I didn’t watch Neil Nitin Mukesh’s last movie, nothing to do with my opinion on alliterative names, and I risked losing out on another Citizen Kane there too.
I know you like to do copies of Western movies, from Godfather to It Happened One Night to Memento to the Prestige, which is strange for someone who wants to win an Oscar and considers the Hindi film industry as derivative, but I honestly don’t know why you chose to do a scene by scene adaptation of Forrest Gump, of all things. But then I don’t claim to know why a late career Dev Anand did a movie where he pointed to the Twin Towers and said “dekho dekho World Trade Center gir raha hai” and then wrote a cheque for a million dollars to Giuliani or why in “Mr Prime Minister” he hunted down Al Qaeda by running after them in a green field. I put it down to the sorry fact that Dev Anand, a legend like you who at his best had pushed the boundaries of Hindi commercial cinema, just decided, once he reached a certain age, to do whatever he wanted. No one had the courage to tell him that Cindy Crawford may not like playing the mother of Dev Anand, that too uncredited, as she did in Awwal Number. Once you are big in Bollywood, you are like the ancient pharaohs of old, you can do whatever you want and there is not anyone like in the fable of Emperor’s New Clothes, that can tell you the very obvious truth.
And the truth is that Forrest Gump, a movie on American history told through the life of one man, which depending on who you ask is a critical look at American interventionism or a whitewashing of America’s original sin, racism, has zero relevance in an Indian context. Nothing crystallizes this ridiculousness more than that scene where you copy the famous “life is a box of chocolates” but you replace chocolates by golgappe, that too in a train where I have never seen golgappe being served, totally missing the subtext of the original.
A box of assorted chocolates, dear sir, is a part of Americana, just like laddoos in India, and unlike golgappe, each chocolate in a box is supposed to be different (or there are two of each kind) and what the original line means is that when you bite into the chocolate, you don’t know what you will get, gooey caramel or a hard nut, but it’s still chocolate and comforting and that’s what life is, varied moments with different aftertastes, but overall beautiful. How the hell that translates to Golgappe I don’t know, in the same way I don’t know why Dev Anand, during his rap in Mr Prime Minister, said “Peanuts…. peee…nuts”.
Now it’s a bit presumptuous of me to write an open letter saying I won’t watch your film. I know you don’t care. But the reason needs some explanation and clarification because I posit this is the real reason why the theaters are empty—the movie sucks and that comes out in the trailer and the premise and in your acting, and in an age of covid and rising prices, there are better things for people to do than watching aging stars act beyond their age.
However, my humble opinion is that your public pronouncements have little to do with it. Of course, there will be people on Twitter, Hindu right wing handles who will say they did it, that this is a backlash against godless Bollywood, or Urduwood as they like to call it, except that they did not. They could not have because your audience, as well as of the other Khans, don’t care for social media outrage and political posturing. That’s the thing about being one of the 3 Khans: at your best you are review proof and outrage proofs. But you are no longer at your best either. This is not the early 2000s.
Since I am writing the letter, forgive me for making it about myself. I belong to the old school where we didn’t believe in canceling people, where we accepted disagreement and criticism without losing any love. I was one of the first people who criticized PKs uneven take on Hinduism, before it became fashionable to call you a Hinduphobe. But I will not call you that, because you are not, and if you have made PK, you have also been the villainous “ice candy man” in Earth who wasn’t a Hindu (which in my opinion is your greatest role ever), and the Hindu right wing don’t seem to remember that or care to.
When I see you on public fora saying you love your country and you apologize to the public for causing hurt, I want to tell you that no one in their right mind, or rather only people in the “extreme right” mind, would accuse you of not loving your country. It makes me feel bad to see you having to be apologetic, or having to justify your loyalty to this country because I grew up on your movies starting from QSQT, and I have seen everything you have ever made, Thugs of Hindostan and Mela and Tum Mere Ho and Daulat Ki Jung and Love, Love, Love and even Raakh, and you are a part of the pop culture zeitgeist for many generations, and as Indian as anyone.
But here is the real tragedy.
I can’t trust any of your public pronouncements.
I can’t say that this “I am sorry” is not a cynical cover for later spinning the inevitable failure of the movie, which is because of its theme, as a sign of growing Hindu majoritarianism and intolerance. I can’t say that this “I love India” is a way of manipulating audiences who hate the current government to come out and “give it to the bhakts” by watching the movie.
Why don’t I trust you, even though I am a long-time admirer of your work?
Because I have seen your synthetic tears on Satyameva Jayate. I have seen your activist avatar that is triggered by a new season of the show only. If you had spoken out on your worrying about the plight of minorities in this country, I would have understood that, but you said your family felt unsafe, that too you used the voice of your wife to make that statement, though everyone knows that your position and wealth and overall influence makes you above any kind of threat. That was pure posturing for publicity, and that too through an indirection.
When you used your bully pulpit on Satyameva Jayate to vilify doctors, did I think you meant it?
You did it because it was good for the show. People don’t like doctors so let’s do the populist thing.
When you met the wife of the head of state of a country that’s virulently anti India for a photo-op, did I think you were anti India?
Because I knew that too was for commerce, you were shooting in Turkey.
So you see, my lack of trust works both ways.
Which is why I feel bad seeing you apologize but right then another part tells me this could well be another publicity stunt, another gimmick, another game.
With you, I know nothing is real, and I am fine with that. I don’t have to trust you to admire your work. And before you ask, I also do not trust the public pronouncements of other heroes, atheist one day, religious nationalist another, depending on the movie they are currently promoting and the direction the political movie is blowing, but for now, we are just talking about you.
So please, please don’t do “licensed remakes” like Forrest Gump and that too like this, because then even that “admirer of work” part too will be gone.
Still a fan.