Chandu Champion: This true story of grit and determination takes the viewers on a roller coaster of emotions

This Kabir Khan directorial begins off hazily but soon finds its grove. Kartik Aryan delivers a knockout performance putting his blood and soul. He doesn’t miss a single beat
  • Starcast: Kartik Aryan, Vijay Raaz, Bhuvan Arora, Rajpal Yadav, Yashpal Sharma, Shreyas Talpade and others
  • Director and writer: Kabir Khan
  • Additional writers: Sumit Arora and Sudipto Sarkar
  • Producers: Sajid Nadiadwala and Kabir Khan
  • Music: Pritam
  • Production Companies: Naiadwala Grandson Entertainment and Kabir Khan Films
  • Cinematography: Sudeep Chatterjee
  • Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes
  • Genre: Biographical drama

There was a period in Hindi cinema when the on-screen portrayal of disabled/ differently enabled people used to be all about the Bechara syndrome. They were often portrayed as objects of pity or to evoke comedy. But this depiction has undergone a significant change in the recent past. Case in point being Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black featuring Rani Mukherjee. In this movie Rani Mukherjee played a visually impaired girl Michelle based on Helen Keller’s life. Michelle is never reduced to a stock caricature, there is a strong determination to prove herself. In Guzaarish Hrithik Roshan played a popular magician Ethan who suffers paralysis and turns into a radio jockey. Although Guzaarish is a grim story that focuses on Euthanasia/ mercy killing yet it is also a tale of resilience. The scenes of Ethan as a Radio jockey and how he spreads hope through his wit are in particular were compelling.

This year you have had the biopic of the visually impaired businessman Srikant Bolla starring Rajkummar Rao. In this movie director Tushar Hiranandani made some scathing remarks on how some people think that the best way to help the blind is only through making them cross the road. Now you have Kabir Khan’s Chandu Champion based on an incredible true story of Muralikant Petkar. India’s first paralympic gold specialist.

The movie begins in the present with an older Muralikant Petkar (An outstanding Kartik Aryan). He is narrating his tale of glorious days to a bunch of cops. From his younger days itself Murali had a huge dream of winning an Olympic gold medal for India inspired by KD Jadhav an Olympic medalist. He openly says that his dream is to win an Olympic gold medal only to get ridiculed and bullied by his fellow classmates. At one point Murali also runs away from his village. He joins the Indian army and finds a strong ally in the form of Karnail Singh (Bhuvan Arora) who gives Murali hope that he can become the next Milkha. Vijay Raaz plays Tiger Ali. He is a coach cum father-like figure who trains Murali for the boxing championship. He reaches the finals but only ends up with a silver medal leading to a strained relationship with the coach. In the life altering 1965 Kashmir war Murali faces many wounds in the process of trying to save his colleagues. Murali ends up in a prolonged coma becoming paralyzed waist down. At one point he even tries to commit suicide by having excess pills, but destiny has other plans for him. The rest of the story is about how Petekar manages to overcome all the odds fulfilling his dream of winning gold along with why he is narrating his life story to a bunch of policemen.

There is no denying that Chandu Champion has a hazy start. The scenes of Murali in the military camp has a distinct hangover of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The humor at places is also reminiscent of that however the movie finds its grip soon. The scenes of Murali preparing for the boxing championship and how he pummels down his opponents only to lose in the finals has been brilliantly written and enacted. The Pre interval block of the 1965 war and the life altering event sets a solid base for the second half.

The second half becomes even more engaging. The portions of Murali’s despair touches a strong emotional chord. As viewers you root for him to succeed in life. The return of Tiger Ali and the way he motivates Murali to dream big again is wonderful to watch. This time the sport is swimming with the aim of winning gold in the 1972 Summer Paralympics. But here again the path is far from easy as the sports committee is not too keen on funding a player for the Paralympics event. The way Murali overcomes all these challenges and sets a world record by clinching the gold medal in 37.33 seconds is exhilarating to watch.

An aspect of Chandu Champion that elevates the movie from just a template underdog drama is the message that it conveys regarding disability and differently abled people. There is a powerful monologue where Murali talks about how differently abled are not looking for sympathy. It critiques the Bechara syndrome and how sometimes even their best efforts are not given due recognition.

Chandu Champion is also technically strong. Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography coupled with Juluis Packam’s background score elevates the movie’s emotional core further. The cinematography of the boxing and the paralympic sequences in particular deserve a special mention.

Pritam’s music is not of the blockbuster type but the songs Tu Hai Champion and Sarphira make a strong impact.

Coming to the man of the moment Kartik delivers a career defining performance. His physical transformation is of course beyond commendable but beyond the physicality the actor also shines bright in the scenes of showing helplessness, frustration, resilience and grit. He more than holds his own opposite the veteran Vijay Raaz. The hunger to be taken seriously as an actor is very much visible. Even as an older man he is pretty good.

Vijay Raaz as the coach has an interesting arc and is not just used for comic relief. He brings in a lot of emotional depth. His emotional moments with Kartik Aryan give the movie some of its best moments. Bhuvan Arora also makes a strong impact in his limited screen time. The camaraderie between him and Kartik is very much on point.

Shreyas Talpade as the funny cop and Sonali Kulkarni as a journalist could have been used better though.

Chandu Champion is an inspiring story that needs to be watched on the big screen. Muralikant Petkar, Kabir Khan and Kartik Aryan take a bow.

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