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Atul Kulkarni: "'Laal Singh Chaddha' was written for Aamir Khan, the actor and producer"

Atul Kulkarni, actor and first-time writer, on waiting 14 years for the release of his Hindi adaptation of Hollywood blockbuster 'Forrest Gump'

August 06, 2022 / 09:40 AM IST
Atul Kulkarni wrote the script for 'Laal Singh Chaddha' in under two weeks, following a conversation with Aamir Khan about the things that make 'Forrest Gump' remarkable.

Atul Kulkarni wrote the script for 'Laal Singh Chaddha' in under two weeks, following a conversation with Aamir Khan about the things that make 'Forrest Gump' remarkable.

Actor Atul Kulkarni does not recall when he first saw Forrest Gump (FG), but he remembers his first impression of it—as an epic that touched his mind and heart. Kulkarni, who adapted the Hollywood movie starring Tom Hanks as the Aamir Khan-starrer Laal Singh Chaddha—set to release in theatres on August 11, 2022—believes that the latter is an epic as well. “It tells the story of this beautiful nation of ours through a beautiful soul who is Laal,” he says. Edited excerpts from a chat with Kulkarni:

Can you tell us how you thought of adapting it for the Indian audience?

The story began the day of the premiere of Jaane Tu… Ya Jaane Na (2008), a film Aamir had produced. Post that we went for a small party and started talking about the films we liked. Aamir and I both kept talking about FG because we loved it. The next day I was supposed to go for an outdoor shoot which got cancelled and I had 12-15 days at hand. The DVD of FG was lying on my desk and the previous night’s discussion was still in my head. I started re-watching it and after some time, some images started flashing in front of my eyes. I started thinking what if this character was Hindustani, born and raised here. I started taking rough notes and an hour into the film, I thought of making an attempt to write it. On the 10th day, I realised that I had actually finished the script. The next three days were spent in correcting it and the final draft was ready. That’s how it came about 14 years ago.

It's your debut as a writer. How challenging was it to write the script?

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Writing Laal Singh Chaddha was a really difficult job. The kind of exhaustion I felt after writing it was as if I had shot three films back to back. It was a lot of mental work and a very challenging task.

Adaptations are always tricky. In your opinion, how Indian is 'Laal Singh Chaddha'?

We have very specifically used the word adaptation. When people see the film, they will just be watching an Indian film. For instance, take the golgappa dialogue that’s also in the trailer. This is quite a philosophy of human nature that has been told by Laal’s mother to him and in such a simple way that every Indian would understand and that’s what adaptation is. It’s about adapting a film at its philosophical core. Apart from that, we have tried making it a very lovable and relatable film, telling you a kind of history of the nation through a love story.

What were Aamir’s inputs when you were writing the script?

Aamir didn’t know I was writing the script till I finished it. Of course, there have been extremely important inputs by Aamir and Advait (Chandan), the director. Filmmaking is a team game and you need experts from different disciplines. Even after shooting, Aamir has a habit of doing test screenings and I don’t even know how many we have done so far! So yes, every opinion counts.

The movie has taken so many years to finally come through. At any point, did you feel anxious that it won't happen?

As a person, I am not that attached to anything. Secondly, it was written for Aamir, the actor and producer. He didn’t read the script for two years. After writing the script, I called and told him that I have written a script for you which is an adaptation of FG. He kept saying he would read it but kept delaying it for two years. Once I asked him on the phone when he was going to read it. He confessed that it was because I am not a writer. He is a close friend of mine and he thought I would have written a trash script and if he didn’t like it, I would feel bad. I started laughing and told him that my life does not depend on this film and if he doesn’t like the script, we can just trash it. He was in Panchgani at that time. I went there and he read it. The moment he finished it, he told me in Marathi that not only will he act in it, he will produce it as well. He immediately called his production guy and told him to register three titles - Laal, Laal Singh and Laal Singh Chaddha. Then it took ten years to get the rights of FG from Paramount Pictures. But through this journey, I never ever felt anxious because I knew that Aamir liked it immensely. I knew once he takes it upon himself, he will make it happen.

Has this whetted your appetite for writing more scripts?

I don’t know. Ek baat toh tay hai that I can write. Aamir saab has proved that Atul Kulkatni can write a script. However, I don’t call myself a writer; I call myself an expresser. I express myself only when I feel like expressing. So whenever I feel like writing something, I will write it. I don’t know the if, when and how of it.
Deepali Singh is a Mumbai-based freelance journalist who writes on movies, shows, music, art, and food. Twitter: @DeepaliSingh05
first published: Aug 6, 2022 09:40 am
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