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The Unperfect Actor

Gwalior was where it struck me that Kartik stood out from the crowd. In a world of gym-toned bodies and pumped-up biceps, Kartik has never oozed testosterone

Bharathi S. Pradhan Published 26.05.24, 07:40 AM

Right until the evening before, there was vacillation — will it happen or won’t it? When there’d been a discussion on how to have a unique launch for the trailer of Chandu Champion (CC), the film inspired by the life of India’s first paralympic gold medallist Murlikant Petkar, hero Kartik Aaryan had suggested, “Why not launch it in my hometown Gwalior?” After director Kabir Khan and producer Sajid Nadiadwala warmed up to it, the event was put together. Stadium ready, Gwalior agog, flights booked, media invited, all set to go. But four days before the launch, Kartik’s uncle and aunt died tragically in the freak hoarding crash accident that claimed 18 lives in Mumbai.

The natural reaction of the team was to put the event on hold but Kartik ended the conversation by falling back on the old maxim, the show must go on. It was the same “get-up-and-get-going” spirit that had marked Padma Shri Murlikant’s life. But going beyond it, Kartik kept his grief so private that those who didn’t know of the tragedy wouldn’t have guessed what he was going through. It was a champion’s act at the trailer launch.


Gwalior was where it struck me that Kartik stood out from the crowd. In a world of gym-toned bodies and pumped-up biceps, Kartik has never oozed testosterone. Au contraire, when Kabir Khan put him on the strictest regimen of his life to play Murlikant, his nonplussed trainer had called up the director and remarked, “This boy doesn’t seem to have even gone to a gym.”

Paranoias like fear of water and off-the-cuff confessions like, “Before coming to Mumbai, I’ve never dated a girl”, added to the picture of a new sort of Hindi film hero. One who doesn’t swagger to impress.

Also cut out clinking glasses late into the night with those who matter because Kartik is a teetotaller. He doesn’t smoke, he’s a vegetarian, no substance abuse. One could point out that John Abraham too is a vegetarian, doesn’t smoke or drink. Akshay Kumar and Suniel Shetty too don’t smoke or drink. But they’re all uniformly poster boys for gym memberships, a template for looking like a hero today.

On the chartered flight to Gwalior, which landed with a hard thud shaking everybody on board, one further saw how different Kartik was. Startled, he enquired with curiosity if it was true that Rishi Kapoor had also been a nervous flyer. That was true, Rishi used to have a drink or two before boarding a flight. But Kartik can’t do that. “I’m
always nervous when flying,” Kartik disclosed. Small aircraft make him a little jumpy. “And helicopters, I completely avoid.”

To play Murlikant, who won an individual gold in the 1972 Summer Paralympics in Germany and set a world record in freestyle swimming, Kartik had to overcome another nervousness — his fear of water.

Much is known about the strict regimen he was put on. To lose 14 kilos and put on muscle was a challenge for the vegetarian especially when he, as the conscientious son of doctor parents, was determined not to use steroids. It therefore took longer, with one year of not eating a morsel that wasn’t monitored by Kabir’s team. Kartik the insomniac had to change his body clock too, sleep early, wake up early. But what most don’t know is that Kartik added “no dating for one year” to his regimentation. “Kabir ne mujhe yogi bana diya,” he laughs.

Mother Dr Mala Tiwari was a constant companion. Especially when he got a viral infection just before shooting in an Olympic swimming pool in London. The shoot couldn’t be postponed since the pool was unavailable thereafter. Mom was the doctor needed on set to keep an eye on him and his fever. Poignant that his mother, who was with her family after losing her brother and bhabhi in the hoarding tragedy, couldn’t be at the trailer launch of the film her son had shot for so conscientiously.

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