Chandu Champion Review: Kartik Aaryan Pulls Off A Career-Best Performance

Chandu Champion Review: A one-man show but trust Vijay Raaz to turn a supporting role into something much more than that. When he is on the screen, Kartik Aaryan has to concede ground to him.

Chandu Champion Review: Kartik Aaryan Pulls Off A Career-Best Performance

Kartik Aaryan in Chandu Champion. (courtesy: YouTube)

The long-forgotten but incredible story of Murlikant Petkar, India's first-ever Paralympics gold medallist and Padma Shri recipient, comes alive on the big screen in Chandu Champion, a sweeping and somewhat overdone biopic spearheaded by Kartik Aaryan as the spirited titular hero.

Chandu Champion, writer-director Kabir Khan's second sports film in succession (after 83), intense emotions, high drama, anthemic music, athletic action and comic interludes into a blender to capture a phenomenally eventful life.

Murlikant's life was one that witnessed more twists and turns than any average life ever does. Indeed, the things Murlikant Petkar attempted and achieved as a young man was indeed anything but commonplace. Does the film do justice to him? Yes, for the most part.

Murlikant's journey from a village in Maharashtra's Sangli district to the swimming pool at the 1972 Summer Paralympic Games in Heidelberg via the boxing arena at the 1964 International Military Games in Tokyo is a rousing tale of grit, determination and consummate self-belief.

Chandu Champion might have worked better than it does had the cinematic enactment been a touch less melodramatic and a little more realistic. The portrayal of the budding wrestler of Islampur and his exchanges with his friends, family and mentors are frequently marred by emotional overreach.

To be fair, however, Chandu Champion is pacy and enjoyable. It wastes no time in hitting its straps. Such was the nature of the life that it brings to the screen that it has no time to pause for breath. With the lead actor getting into the swing of things with all his might, the exercise isn't weighed down as other such films are by the cliched tropes of the underdog drama.

The rhythm of the film is obviously dictated by the flow of Murlikant's topsy-turvy life. It flits from one set of experiences to another as the protagonist encounters and surmounts challenges and setbacks on his way to the phenomenal achievement that put him in the record books.

In the opening moments of Chandu Champion, a wizened and somewhat bitter Murlikant Petkar arrives at a police station with his son to lodge a formal complaint against the President of India for not giving him an Arjuna Award.

The skeptical SHO, Inspector Sachin Kamble (Shreyas Talpade), is understandably dismissive to begin with but soon gets drawn into Murli's account of his dramatic ups and downs. The flashback provides the film its narrative crux while rounding off the portrait of a man who never said die.

Chandu Champion is an overtly and inevitably masculine film. Two of the sports that it showcases - wrestling and boxing - were officially out of bounds for women until the late 1980s and became Olympic disciplines for female competitors even later.

The bulk of the film plays out in the 1960s and early 1970s, when women were never anywhere near the wrestling or boxing arena, let alone in it. The male protagonist has no romantic interest to boot. The film, therefore, has no room for love ditties.

The only time that Murli breaks into song and dance is on a train with a large group of young men on their way to enlist in the Indian Army. The peppy musical set piece, composed by Pritam, gives director of photography Sudeep Chatterjee the scope to pull out the stops and display his proven virtuosity.

At another point, in a protracted and crucial war scene filmed without a cut, the cinematographer is at his very best capturing the rough and tumble of battle. As for the rest of the film, editor Nitin Baid imparts to it the sort of pace that ensures that Chandu Champion never feels overlong.

Chandu Champion is an all-male affair. Well, almost. The film has three secondary female characters - Murlikant's mother (Hemangi Kavi), an Indian television journalist in Tokyo (Bhagyashri Borse) and another present-era scribe (Sonali Kulkarni) who pulls the man out of oblivion more than four decades after his historic Paralympics feat.

Unlike other sports dramas, Chandu Champion is obviously not limited to a single Olympic discipline. Murlikant Petkar, a timid and bullied boy who fought humiliation and scepticism to make his way out of anonymity, began as a wrestler, turned into a boxer in the Indian Army and finally, after being seriously wounded in the Indo-Pak war of 1965 and paralysed from the waist down, took to 50m freestyle swimming.

The three sporting arenas - a village wrestling pit, a Military Games boxing ring and an Olympic swimming pool - have distinct colour palettes. Each necessitates a specific rhythm and technique. That helps Chandu Champion keep visual and tonal monotony at bay.

Murlikant, who idolised freestyle wrestler Dara Singh, strayed into wrestling because he believed that the sport could help him realise his dream of winning an Olympic gold medal. He is laughed off by his mates and elders but, as life takes him in a new direction, he finds men who see his potential and agree to groom him.

As a boy, Murli witnesses the hero's welcome that bronze medal-winning wrestler K.D. Jadhav receives on his return from the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. The sight ignites in him a desire to do even better. Murli defies the odds and finds a toehold in the village wrestling akhada, where he invites trouble by defeating the son of the most powerful man in the village.

The latter's goons chase him out of the village. Murli ends up in the Army and becomes a boxer because wrestling isn't a defence forces sport. He trains under a hard taskmaster, Tiger Ali (Vijay Raaz), and quickly acquires exceptional skills.

Under Tiger Ali's guidance, Murli goes from being "Chandu Champion", a disparaging sobriquet given to him by his village of naysayers (Chandu is shorthand for 'loser'), to emerging as "Chhotu Tiger" - as his boxing coach christens him - and "Indian wonder boy" - a title the Japanese media bestows on him when he makes a significant mark at the 1964 International Military Games in Tokyo.

And then the 1965 war erupts. Murli is riddled with nine bullets but survives miraculously. His life changes in more ways than one as he recuperates in an Army hospital, finds a new friend, Topaz (Rajpal Yadav), in the medical ward, and Tiger Ali returns to mentor him again.

Kartik Aaryan sheds his free-spirited gadabout cloak and gets into the skin of a character that makes a slew of demands on the actor. Aaryan gives the physically exacting role all he has and pulls off a career-best performance.

Chandu Champion is a one-man show but trust Vijay Raaz to turn a supporting role into something much more than that. When he is on the screen, Kartik Aaryan has to concede ground to him. But the rest of the film has the lead leading from the front.

Chandu Champion, which celebrates an unprecedented victory in the face of great adversity, has to negotiate its own share of hurdles. It is tripped by a few of them but manages to tide over the rest.

Chandu Champion may be a mixed bag but it never ceases to be uplifting.


Kartik Aaryan, Vijay Raaz, Bhagyashree Patwardhan, Rajpal Naurang Yadav, Bhuvan Arora


Kabir Khan