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Kartik Aryan Beautifully Brings Long-Forgotten First-Ever Paralympics Gold Medalist Murlikant Petkar To Big Screen

Chandu Champion is a broad and a little bit overdone biopic that tells the incredible but long-forgotten story of Murlikant Petkar, the first-ever gold medallist from India at the Paralympics and recipient of the Padma Shri award. Kartik Aaryan plays the passionate title character in the film.

Intense feelings, high drama, energetic music, athletic action, and comedic interludes are all blended together in Chandu Champion, writer-director Kabir Khan’s second sports film in a row (after 83), to depict a wonderfully exciting existence.

Murlikant’s life has more ups and downs than the typical person’s ever encounters. Indeed, the things Murlikant Petkar attempted and achieved as a young man was indeed anything but usual. Does the movie give him enough credit? In most cases, yes.

Murlikant’s inspirational story of courage, determination, and unwavering self-belief takes us from a village in the Sangli district of Maharashtra to the swimming pool at the 1972 Summer Paralympic Games in Heidelberg, via the boxing arena at the 1964 International Military Games in Tokyo.

If the cinematic enactment had been a little more realistic and less melodramatic, Chandu Champion might have worked a little better than it does. The portrayal of the developing wrestler of Islampur and his exchanges with his friends, family and gurus are sometimes marred by emotional overkill.

But to be fair, Chandu Champion moves quickly and is entertaining. It hits its straps without any delay. The life it delivers to the screen is so dynamic that it lacks the ability to take a breather. The exercise isn’t burdened by the tired clichés of the underdog drama, as other similar films are, because the lead character is throwing himself into it.

The flow of Murlikant’s erratic life undoubtedly sets the tone for the movie. It jumps around from experience to experience as the main character faces and overcomes obstacles and failures on route to the incredible feat that will go down in history.

In the first scene of Chandu Champion, a grizzled and often resentful Murlikant Petkar and his son go to a police station to file an official complaint against the Indian President for denying him an Arjuna Award.

Murli’s story of his spectacular ups and downs draws in Inspector Sachin Kamble (Shreyas Talpade), the sceptical SHO, who is initially reasonably contemptuous. The flashback completes the portrayal of a guy who never said death, and it also serves as the film’s central narrative device.

The movie Chandu Champion is unavoidably and blatantly masculine. Wrestling and boxing, two of the sports it features, were declared off-limits to female participants until the late 1980s and were eventually added to the Olympic programme.

The majority of the movie takes place in the 1960s and early 1970s, a time when women were not allowed in or around boxing or wrestling arenas. In addition, the male lead has no romantic interest. The picture, consequently, has no room for love ditties.

Murli only performs a song and dance when travelling by train with a sizable number of young men who are preparing to enlist in the Indian Army. Director of photography Sudeep Chatterjee is given the opportunity to showcase his shown virtuosity and go all out in this upbeat musical set piece, written by Pritam.

Another scene has a long and important war sequence that is shot without editing, and the cinematographer does an excellent job of conveying the chaos and bloodshed of combat. The rest of the movie has a tempo that editor Nitin Baid gives it, which makes Chandu Champion never seem too long.

The Chandu Champion is a male-only event. Alright, nearly. Three supporting female characters appear in the movie: Murlikant’s mother (Hemangi Kavi), Bhagyashri Borse, an Indian television journalist in Tokyo, and Sonali Kulkarni, a contemporary writer who brings the man back to life almost forty years after his remarkable Paralympic achievement.

It goes without saying that Chandu Champion is not restricted to any one Olympic sport, unlike other sports dramas. Murlikant Petkar was a shy and tormented young man who battled ridicule and doubt to break free from obscurity. He started out as a wrestler, became a boxer in the Indian Army, and eventually took up 50m freestyle swimming after suffering severe injuries in the Indo-Pak War of 1965 that left him paralysed from the waist down.

The three sporting arenas – a village wrestling pit, a Military Games boxing ring and an Olympic swimming pool – have separate colour palettes. Each requires a particular rhythm and method. This aids Chandu Champion in avoiding monotony in both tone and visuals.

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 rigorous job 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 part into something much more than that. When he appears on screen, Kartik Aaryan has to give something up. However, the lead takes the lead throughout the remainder of the movie.

Even Chandu Champion, which rejoices after an extraordinary triumph over extreme hardship, faces challenges of its own. A handful of them trip it, but it holds out for the remainder.

Even though Chandu Champion isn’t perfect, it’s always inspiring.

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