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regular-article-logo Thursday, 18 July 2024

Chandu Champion: Kartik Aaryan delivers a knockout act in Kabir Khan’s sports biopic

The film tells the story of India’s first Paralympics gold medal winner and stars Vijay Raaz, Bhuvan Arora, Anirudh Dave, Rajpal Yadav, Shreyas Talpade, Yashpal Yadav and Sonali Kulkarni

Chandreyee Chatterjee Calcutta Published 15.06.24, 11:34 AM
A still of Kartik Aaryan from Chandu Champion

A still of Kartik Aaryan from Chandu Champion

Like most biopics, Chandu Champion tells the unimaginable story of an extraordinary individual, starting from their humble beginnings to their journey to achieving unbelievable feats. Unlike most biopics, Chandu Champion manages to keep it fresh even amidst the predictability of the done-to-death trope.

Chandu Champion, Kabir Khan’s follow-up to the biographical sports drama 83, tells the story of Murlikant Petkar (Kartik Aaryan) from Sangli, Maharashtra, a little boy who dreams of being an Olympic gold medallist. His dream makes him a laughing stock both in the village and at home. The puny lad joins an akhara to learn wrestling and grows up to be a lanky pehelwan who is chased away from his village after beating another contestant at a wrestling competition.

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Petkar ends up in the army, learns boxing and represents India, losing his shot at making it to the Olympics, in the finals. He takes nine bullets in the 1965 war with Pakistan and is paralysed waist-down but instead of giving up on his dream, he trains in swimming and ends up becoming the first Indian to win gold at the Paralympics!

Aaryan delivers a knockout performance as Petkar, devoid of his usual mannerisms and undergoing a tremendous physical transformation. He brings to the screen a mix of innocence, belligerence — his “hasta kyun hai?” becomes a tagline — passion and indomitable spirit, holding our attention even without the help of his movie star smile. He makes Petkar at once likeable and believable, even when he is doing extraordinary things.

But Aaryan doesn’t have to do the heavy lifting on his own. He has the support of an excellent cast, whether it is Bhuvan Arora as Karnail Singh, the man who encourages Petkar to join the army to get a shot at the Olympics and becomes his friend, or Vijay Raaz as Tiger Ali, Petkar’s grumpy Gus of a trainer, both often threatening to steal the show. Yashpal Sharma nails the stereotypical screaming army commander Uttam Singh. And old man Aaryan, who is narrating the story in the present, has the help of Shreyas Talpade as Inspector Sachin Kamble and Brijendra Kala to elevate each scene. Then there is Anirudh Dave as Petkar’s elder brother who has one of the most touching scenes with Aaryan as he chooses practicality over sentimentality. Rajpal Yadav as Topaz, a hospital attendant who becomes Petkar’s champion, is also worth a mention.

Petkar’s story cuts between the present — where he is narrating his life story at a police station where he has gone to file a case against the past Presidents of the country for not giving him the Arjuna Award — and the past where he keeps missing his shot at the Olympics but never giving up. We get the training montages expected from a film like this — Aaryan at the akhara doing grunt work, training in the army, training with Raaz in the boxing ring and then training in the swimming pool. It is predictable, but not boring, primarily because of the chemistry between Aaryan and Raaz, and enhanced by the background score and songs by Pritam.

The finale is also predictable with a slo-mo final lap that is the do-or-die moment for the protagonist, but even here it is kept fresh with how each time he raises his head to take a breath he sees the obstacles he has overcome to reach this moment.

Chandu Champion — ‘chandu’ here means ‘loser’, a name Petkar was called in his village — also doesn’t wear its patriotism on its sleeve but weaves it into the story unobtrusively, whether it is the Indian flag that Petkar sees when he comes out of a two-year coma, or the entire Olympics stadium on their feet when he wins the 50m freestyle competition breaking all records, and you know they are standing for the national anthem.

There is a disturbing lack of significant women characters – Sonali Kulkarni shows up as the reporter who brings the story of Petkar out of obscurity and into the spotlight, but it is too little too late. But then that is one of the few peeves about a movie that does its job of telling a story that needs to be told.

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