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Bollywood: Review of Kabir Khan-directed film Chandu Champion starring Kartik Aaryan

Ably aided by a career-defining act from Kartik Aaryan, director Kabir Khan fashions an inspiring drama with Chandu Champion that makes even formula feel fresh

Priyanka Roy  Published 15.06.24, 07:09 AM
Kartik Aaryan in Chandu Champion, now playing in cinemas

Kartik Aaryan in Chandu Champion, now playing in cinemas

For most, life is a lookback at a series of what-ifs. For Murlikant Petkar, life has been a series of what-the-f***s. Pardon my French, but there is little else to describe this extraordinary story. One of a man who broke through every barrier, trumped over every hurdle and beat every conceivable odd. In fact, the entirety of Petkar’s life can be considered a major obstacle course whose resemblance to the minefield littered with bullets and bodies that the man finds himself in the middle of the halfway mark of the film wouldn’t be an exaggeration.

It is this story of never giving up and realising one’s dreams that forms the crux of Chandu Champion, the Kabir Khan-directed film, with Kartik Aaryan playing Petkar aka ‘Chandu Champion’. In fact, in the film, ‘Chandu Champion’ is a term used as a playful jibe — and often pretty derogatorily — by many characters at various junctures to deride the dreams that its protagonist nurtures in his heart and head ever since he is knee high.


But just like Murlikant turned every situation stacked against him into a goal that the man punched his way through hard enough to reach, Kabir Khan fashions a film of deep emotional resonance and inspiration, all the while keeping it full of humour and heart and choosing not to limit the story to the dark spaces that it often finds itself in. Chandu Champion, with Kartik at the front and centre of a role the actor has never played in the past, packs in enough human drama, emotional hooks and motivational moments to keep the viewer both engaged and inspired.

“Don’t worry if your goals seem crazy to other people... oftentimes the crazy ideas are the ones that have the greatest impact” goes a popular quote. It may well be the logline of Chandu Champion. Petkar, the first man to win India a gold medal at the Paralympics, a war hero, an expert in multiple disciplines of sport and, most importantly, a braveheart who never gave up, may be someone who has a Padma Shri and now a film to his credit, but like millions of others, he has remained an unsung hero forgotten in the dusty annals of Indian history.

Chandu Champion starts right from the beginning, which is Murli’s childhood in the early ‘50s, where the young boy, right after spotting the accolades and respect that come the way of a medal winner from his village, sets himself an almost obsessive eye-on-the-fish-eye target — to win an Olympic medal.

A young Murli — with child actor Ayan Khan Sroha doing an excellent job — goes against family and grits his teeth at naysayers as he works towards a goal that he has limited knowledge of but one that he knows he has to achieve.

The sporting moments in Chandu Champion — whether shown as prep or in the biggest tournaments in the world — are viscerally shot, capturing both the physical prowess and the emotional heft of its protagonist as he applies body and mind to his target.

Kabir fascinatingly sets up the various stages of Petkar’s life, maintaining a consistent ‘how on earth did he do it?’ wide-eyed wonder, inviting the viewer to embark on this extraordinary, albeit overlong, journey as Murli jumps from a dangal in Islampur to a train that takes him to a training boot camp in what was then known as Poona to the EME Army academy in Hyderabad. In his new pal Garnail (a scene-stealing Bhuvan Arora) and under the strict but supportive guidance of Tiger Ali (a superlative Vijay Raaz), Murli finds his biggest cheerleaders. A second-place finish in boxing — Chandu’s passion consistently overrides his rookie status — at the International Military Games in Tokyo brings him within sniffing distance of an Olympic showing. But nine bullets on the field during the 1965 Chinese Aggression get Murli within sniffing distance of death and lifelong paralysis waist down.

But “Bhagwan ka aadmi” is what Murli is referred to in the film and it is sheer resilience, true grit and the burning desire to never surrender that puts him in the Paralympics and enables him to realise his dream: a gold medal for India.

What works for Chandu Champion — despite the inevitable framework of a biographical drama — is the fact that Kabir Khan, who has earned his stripes as a smart and self-aware filmmaker, knows how to make even formula fresh. The training montages, though seen before, are arrestingly edited; the war scene is filmed in a punch-in-the-gut manner and the humour, that rescues the film when it teeters into a dark space, doesn’t seem forced.

Also, Chandu Champion does well in snipping off what could be thought of as the essential ‘entertaining’ aspects of a biopic — there is no romantic angle and the film only includes songs (by Pritam) that fit into the narrative. The playful Satyanaas may be an indulgence but its feel-good factor and foot-tapping quality only embellish the film. A Forrest Gump-like aesthetic aids Chandu Champion even in parts where it may seem to fall into being an uninspiring by-the-numbers biopic.

Jeena nahin chhora toh sapna kyun?” to “Champion girta hain lekin rukta nahin” may make Chandu Champion a tad verbose and preachy at times, but the fact that they are being uttered by actors like Vijay Raaz, Yashpal Sharma and even Rajpal Yadav render them with both feel and conviction.

But Chandu Champion rests wholly on the gym-trained shoulders of Kartik Aaryan. The actor has made a journey worth a mention from his semi-incel characters in the Pyaar Ka Punchnama films to the leading man in a nuanced narrative like Chandu Champion. Save for some shaky initial moments, Kartik doesn’t seem ill at ease in the mind and skin of the man he plays. Chandu Champion may not owe all it is to Kartik’s performance but Kartik does owe the actor that he has now become to Chandu Champion.

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