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Champion stuff, Petkar & Aaryan

Champion stuff, Petkar & Aaryan

Kartik Aaryan does more than a convincing job of transforming into a sportsman possessed by a single-minded resolve to win.

Film: Chandu Champion

Director: Kabir Khan

Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Ayan Khan Sroha, Bhuvan Arora, Yashpal Sharma, Rajpal Yadav, Aniruddh Dave, Vijay Raaz, Shreyas Talpade, Bhagyashri Borse and Sonali Kulkarni

Nonika Singh

A village boy dreaming of winning an Olympics medal, that too in the 1950s? Sounds incredible, improbable…. Indeed, ‘Chandu Champion’ is a story waiting to be told and even more surprising, why hadn’t we heard it before? Today, as in Kabir Khan’s film, the name Murlikant Petkar resounds with force and passion, we can’t help but kick ourselves as to why the name didn’t ring an instant bell prior to Khan deciding to tell his tale of indefatigable passion and grit.

Murlikant Petkar was India’s first Paralympics gold medallist and clearly his is an inspirational tale that warms the cockles of your heart as much as it brings tears to your eyes. Khan, whose last film ‘83’ recreated the triumph of an underdog Indian cricket team which won the World Cup in 1983, turns his lens on the individual accomplishments of a sportsman who fought against all odds, including physical disability, to emerge a winner.

The dramatic rendering of the story begins with a war shot and immediately moves to 2017. A man is in the police station demanding action against the Presidents of India as he has not been given the Arjuna Award. Why does he deserve one? Flashback takes us to his childhood years when his impossible dream takes birth at the sight of Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav, India’s first individual bronze medal winner at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Step by step, we become privy to the trials and tribulations of Petkar, born in the Islampur region of Sangli, Maharashtra.

The first half creates Petkar’s character arc, his wrestling forays in his village, his induction in the Army and his stint at the International Services Sports Meet in Tokyo in 1964, where he gets a silver medal in boxing.

The actual uphill journey begins post interval since nine bullets in the 1965 war have almost sealed his dreams. But courage never dies. From wheelchair to deep-dive into a swimming pool, in his rise we see Napoleon Bonaparte’s sentiments come alive — ‘Courage isn’t having the strength to go on, it is going on when you don’t have strength.’

Khan’s attempt to infuse humour in this extraordinary tale does not work as much as to pack it with emotions. But then, emotional connect has been the core strength of this maker, who believes ‘it’s all about emotions’. Indeed, it helps that the man tugging at our heartstrings is none other than the charming and endearing Kartik Aaryan in the titular role. He is playing a part he has not essayed before and does more than a convincing job of transforming, physically and otherwise, into a sportsman possessed by a single-minded resolve to become a champion. And like Khan said in an interview, ‘Aaryan throws vanity out of the window’, he becomes this self-driven Petkar sans frills. Still, there are a few fleeting moments where he looks like a dashing hero and a bit contemporary too. But, it’s not only his character in the film, the actor too emerges triumphant. If the superstar Kartik is at the centre of the film, making us root for him all the way, there is a battery of supporting actors keeping things vibrant and afloat. At the very inception, there is Shreyas Talpade and Brijendra Kala. If Kala can be trusted to make a mark even in the smallest of roles, gifted actor Vijay Raaz is truly the pillar on which the film stands strong and robust. A mentor’s role has rarely been so remarkably exemplified and etched as his Tiger Ali. Rajpal Yadav’s presence in the hospital is meant to dramatise the proceedings and bring comic relief, especially at a point when the story turns grim. But again, Yadav adds more emotional heft than laughter. Yashpal Sharma as the Army trainer and Bhuvan Arora as Petkar’s friend Jarnail Singh, too, are on a strong footing.

Songs, especially ‘Sirphira’ by Kausar Munir with Pritam’s irrepressible beats, capture the spirit of the film. One could argue that certain songs could have been avoided in a story that is anything but regular. However, there are no unnecessary tropes like a prem kahani. Yes, Khan does take out a leaf or two from his ‘83’ template: Sikhs waving the Indian flag at international games, villagers and Army personnel huddling around the radio listening to the commentary when Petkar pulls off that astonishing feat at the 1972 summer Paralympics in Heidelberg.

The scene in which Raaz as Tiger Ali recounts sterling stories of paralympians around the world is telling. Then one in which Kartik’s Petkar argues with sports officials, too, is reminiscent of the apathy para-athletes face. But Khan does not dwell too much in politics and other isms which ail Indian sports.

Writing by Khan, Sumit Arora and Sudipto Sarkar is never too preachy. This is the story of one man and for most parts remains that. The idea is to hail him and we walk out of theatres saluting the living legend, the Padma Shri recipient who deserves his place as much in sporting history as our filmography. Kudos to Khan and Kartik for reliving his sporting glory.