Chandu Champion review: Kartik Aaryan delivers a knockout performance in emotional, inspiring underdog story | Bollywood - Hindustan Times

Chandu Champion review: Kartik Aaryan delivers a knockout performance in emotional, inspiring underdog story

Jun 14, 2024 07:11 AM IST

Chandu Champion review: By not mounting this real-life story on a big canvas, Kabir Khan lets the subtlety of this story take centerstage, which works.

There comes a dialogue in Chandu Champion where a journalist says: 'This is a story that's difficult to believe, but important to tell', and this one line encapsulates the essence of this heartwarming tale that celebrates the exemplary journey of an unsung and forgotten hero. Based on the life of Murlikant Petkar, India's first Paralympics gold medallist, the biographical sports drama, directed by Kabir Khan, presents Murli's triumphs and failures with equal impact. (Also read: Kartik Aaryan’s trainer reveals actor’s workout plan for Chandu Champion: ‘He couldn't do a single push-up initially’)

Kartik Aaryan in a still from Chandu Champion.
Kartik Aaryan in a still from Chandu Champion.

The journey of a lifetime

An extraordinary athlete who just refuses to give up or surrender to the adversities life throws at him, Murli's journey from being an underdog to a champion truly inspires and moves you. By not mounting this real-life story on a big canvas, Kabir lets the subtlety and simplicity of this story take centerstage, and it works. I loved the way he sprinkles a generous dose of humour in his storytelling to make the story so relatable and light-hearted. Watch out of the training scene at the army camp where this bunch is marching to the rhythm of O Gore Gore Banke Chore, and the scene at the airport when Murli is scared before boarding a flight and his reaction when it finally takes off.

The film begins in the present day with an elderly Murli (Kartik Aaryan) sitting in police station narrating the tale of his glorious days to a bunch of cops, and convincing them why after 40 years, he deserves an Arjuna Award from the government. Following a series of flashback sequences, he narrates his life's story from being an obsessed teenager fixated on winning an Olympics Gold medal for India, to his young years training in the army and learning professional boxing and being known as 'Wonder Boy from India'. What follows next is the 1965 Kashmir war where Murli takes nine bullets while trying to save his mates, yet he manages to survive with two years in come, and finally bouncing back to life, albeit paralysed from waist down. When he can't walk on the ground, he makes water his playing field, and learns swimming to accomplish his Olympic dream and setting a world record. How this khota sikka turns his fate and becomes a hukum ka ikka is what Chandu Champion encompasses.

Kartik Aaryan bowls you over

Give it to Kartik Aaryan for imbibing Murli's personality and demeanour so effortlessly and bringing it to life with an earnest performance that showcases his dedication to detail. All the workshops and training reflect in every frame, and the physical transformation he has undergone to look the part, bowls you over at several places, especially in the wrestling and boxing sequences. There is a sense of balance Kartik brings to his performance where he makes you laugh with his comic timing, and goes all out in the emotionally charged scenes. As an old man, Kartik looks pretty convincing and doesn't go overboard picking the body language. Credit to Kabir to bringing out the best in Kartik and pushing the naïve and raw Pyaar Ka Punchnama boy to do something as challenging as Chandu Champion.

For me, Chandu Champion moves between 'Hasta Kaiko Hai?' to 'Main Kar Lega'. It makes you believe in the common man's courage to dream big and shut all the naysayers who mock and ridicule him along the way. The way he turns around and says, 'Chandu nahi, champion hoon main', says a lot about Murli's confidence, attitude and resilience. The story co-written by Kabir, Sumit Arora and Sudipto Sarkar has several high points, and a few lows here and there, which honestly, you can easily look past as the non-linear narrative keeps you hooked. The screenplay does appear a bit uneven in the middle, especially when after a super engaging first half, the story gets a tad too repetitive in the second half and loses pace. Yet, Kartik holds his ground and the direction par excellence brings things back on track soon.

There are times when sports dramas tend to get a bit preachy or in case of a biopic, the makers show the protagonist as an undefeatable hero. In Chandu Champion, Kabir enters no such territories. He simply takes us through Murli's struggle, hardships, conviction, dedication and hard work that makes him reach his goal despite having no support of his family and constant ridicule from the society. Also, the film is devoid of any fancy frills in terms of dialogues, and you don't complain. It's the premise that you're more intrigued about: exploring and knowing Murli as a go-getter. However, I would have loved if we were shown a bit of Murli's personal life too - with his wife and kids. For instance, after his war, when his family comes back to see him after years, that portion is stunning - especially when Murli's brother gives him a reality check that things aren't the same anymore. The shot of his mother and brother leaving him alone on a wheelchair is heartbreaking. Chandu Champion's music might not be extraordinary as standalone tracks, but Sarphira and Satyanaas do go well with the story and don't really look out of the place.

While Kartik remains the centre of the story, there are several characters that enhance the film. Bhuvan Arora as Karnail Singh delivers a rock-solid performance and complements Kartik as the only person he befriends during his army training and boxing days. Their camaraderie is crackling in some scenes. Aniruddh Dave as Murli's brother makes an impact in the limited screentime he gets. A special mention to Vijay Raaz as the boxing coach Tiger Ali, who adds soul to the story. For once, I'm glad he's not used only as a comic relief but has a rather interesting character arc with a lot of depth. From the first scene where he is mispronouncing everyone's name in the boxing ring to being Murli's support system till the end, Raaz is terrific in every frame. Shreyas Talpade as the funny cop doesn't have much to do than, and Sonali Kulkarni as the journalist who takes it upon herself to retell Murli's story forgotten to the world could have had a better character sketch than just turn into a narrator.

If you've liked and appreciated Bollywood's love for sports dramas so far, you'd find Chandu Champion to be a beautiful addition to the genre that continues to tell us inspiring tales. And after the lukewarm response his 2021 film, Ranveer Singh-starrer '83 received at the box office, Chandu Champion seems to be the perfect comeback for Kabir Khan as well as its hero Kartik Aaryan, who is in no mood to be typecast.

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