Chandu Champion marked by stellar turn from Kartik Aaryan

Kartik Aaryan in and as Chandu Champion. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Aren’t we having a surfeit of bio-pics now? Especially sports bio-pics and dramas revolving around games? I think we must have lost count of such sagas by now—to which we can add the fictional sports dramas too. And yes, there is a sub-category here as well: we have unknown heroes that are being discovered, including those physically challenged. It’s no longer about well-known icons only, like Milkha Singh or Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.

Producer Sajid Nadiadwala and producer-director Kabir Khan alone have collaborated in late 2021 on 83, which was a dramatized re-telling of India’s 1983 World Cup win featuring Kapil Dev mainly. This time, the hero is Murlikant Rajaram Petkar, who won an individual gold medal in 1972 in swimming at the Summer Parlympics in Heidelberg, Germany, and was a finalist in the same year in javelin, precision, javelin throw and slalom (which are not shown in the film). In 2018, the media discovered this forgotten hero and the government conferred the Padma Shri on this gentleman from Sangli, Maharashtra.

Kabir Khan (who also has co-written this film along with Sumit Laul, Sudipto Sarkar and Rohit Shukre for the Marathi lines) is seasoned at both real-life storytelling (The Forgotten Army—Azaadi Ke Liye, 83) as well as fiction (Kabul Express, Ek Tha Tiger, Phantom) around both military forces and agents as well as sports and over here he gets an opportunity to use up both genres. Murlikant is a wrestler with a dream to win the Olympic gold who is mocked and laughed at by friends and family (“Chandu” in their parlance means a loser!), discouraged by his father but determined to live his dream. On the run from angry villagers as he has beaten the village champion, he boards a running train and befriends Garnail Singh (Bhuvan Arora), a young man who is on the way to enroll in the army.

Garnail suggests that the army is a great route to achieve Murlikant’s dream, because prominent champs like Milkha Singh had an army background. In the army, Murlikant also learns boxing under the tutelage of Tiger Ali (Vijay Raaz), who becomes so fond of him that he christens him “Chhota Tiger”. Tiger is one of those taciturn, no-nonsense coaches with a lost dream, but he sees in Murlikant the path to achieve his own unfulfilled ambition. Murlikant, however, loses a golden chance in the international army games at boxing as his focus gets diluted.

But worse is to come. In the 1965 Indo-Pak war, he is hit by nine bullets and is paralyzed waist down. Shattered hen he regains consciousness after two years, in a Mumbai Army rehab, he is motivated again by Tiger into training for the Paralympics. The story is told in intercuts between past and present, as a 70-plus Murlikant refuses the Arjuna Award for bravery and wishes to do something for his village.

His saga has been lost in the pre-computer era army records and is unearthed thanks largely to a dedicated journalist (Sonali Kulkarni), who persuades an army colleague to discover Murlikant’s back-story and makes him a national hero.

The film, at 140-plus minutes, does not become dreary and is treated quite aptly with humor and a lot of emotions, but I wish that the first half had more pith, crispness and pace. Also, when a tale of an underdog’s rise is being narrated, it is obvious that there will be similarities in events that take him or her up to the top to become a champion, and all these stories will thus look like templates, or scripts using by-now familiar tropes.

Which is why I say that we are now having a surfeit of such “real” stories, and Hindi film audiences are not going to be as encouraging and receptive as they used to be. Maybe it is not the fault of the writers and makers, but larger-than-life, well-crafted fictional stories of heroes and heroines (the classic definition of these words specifically) in multiple genres are clearly needed to woo the audiences back into the now-expensive theatres.

The film’s strongest point is Kartik Aaryan, whose character moves from under-twenty to 70-plus, and the actor is surpassingly brilliant as Murlikant. His understanding of the real soldier-swimmer-wrestler-boxer and his journey, so to speak, from Sangli to Hiedelberg and beyond (the end-credits state that Murlikant won multiple medals and honors in sports) is nuanced, even if we see the typical Kartik at many junctures.

The film focuses only on his determination to fulfill his life’s goal and we are never introduced to the fact that he was ltr married and is now the father of five children. Without doubt Kartik’s finest performance to date, he gets brilliant support from Bhuvan Arora as Garnail Singh and Vijay Raaz as Tiger Ali.

Shreyas Talpade shines in his cameo as Sachin Kamble, the inspector dealing with the old Murlikant, but Sonali Kulkarni is underused. Aniruddh Dave makes for an able elder brother. Yashpal Sharma is excellent as the army trainer who addresses all cadets as “namune”, the word being a derogatory slant on comic characters. Brijendra Kala as a witty yet nosy prisoner and Pushkaraj Chirputkar as the constable who is sidekick to the inspector are standout too. Rajpal Yadav as Topaz, the ward boy, is a good choice in a different role, though his admonition of the army sports selection committee members, unless that really happened, sounds very ‘filmi’.

I liked the real-life references—Murlikant adores Dara Singh and watches one of his wrestling matches in person; there is celebration over a news that Khasabha Jadhav won the country an individual medal in 1952’s Olympics, and Ratan Khatri, the ‘matka’ king himself, comes to congratulate Murlikant on winning a jackpot of Rs. 44,000 in the 1960s (!!).

We also have mention of the 1971 Indo-Pak war, because of which Murlikant’s dream is nearly sabotaged, as the Army is facing a financial crunch in sending sportsmen abroad. Finally, there is another real-life event—the terrorist attack at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

Three more aspects need compulsory mention here: Julius Packiam’s background score is rousing, mood-inducing and yet never in-your-face. The cinematography (Sudeep Chatterjee) and VFX give us superb shots and angles and the bombing on an Army camp is done exceptionally. I also loved the way the entire group of Murlikant’s friends and fellow inmates in the army hospital converge to felicitate him on his being selected to represent the nation at the Paralympics and the framing of the shots here, with the water reflecting their arrival.

In short, Chandu Champion, after a very long time, is a good product from Sajid Nadiadwala’s production house. It underscores Kabir Khan’s directorial skills (at both form and content) again when he really works on the script, and it will be great if this film revitalizes Kartik Aaryan’s career once again after Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2.

What about the low points? There is one significant one in the current context! In one of the background songs we have Punjabi terms. And I don’t think the road from Sangli to Hiedelberg travels through Punjab! As I have always maintained, the downfall in Hindi film music is much more about lyrics, with Punjabi coming in even if the film or situation is based in U.P., Bengal or Gujarat rather than the music alone!


Nadiadwala Grandsons Entertainment’s & Kabir Khan Films’ Chandu Champion Produced by: Warda Nadiadwala, Firuzi Khan, Sajid Nadiadwala & Kabir Khan  Directed by: Kabir Khan  Written by: Kabir Khan, Sumit Kaul,  Sudipto Sarkar & Rohit Shukre Music: Pritam  Starring: Kartik Aaryan, Vijay Raaz, Bhuvan Arora, Yashpal Sharma, Aniruddh Dave, Brijendra Kala, Rajpal Yadav, Sonali Kulkarni, Pushkaraj Chirputkar, Palak Lalwani, Hemangi Kavi, Ganesh Yadav, Bhagyashri Borse, Hemant Choudhary & others






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