CultureCinema ‘Chandu Champion’: A Sports Biopic That Shines Bright

‘Chandu Champion’: A Sports Biopic That Shines Bright

"Chandu Champion" did a lovely job bringing the story of Murlikant Petkar to life and giving him much-deserved recognition.

Spoiler Ahead!

Chandu Champion” is the story of every Indian kid, every “Chandu” with a big, almost impossible dream. The tale takes you through the journey of a young boy from a small village, with a larger-than-life dream in his eyes- to be a Champion, to win a Gold medal for India.

His life quests to reach that goal are nothing short of extraordinary, and the film does an excellent job capturing his journey, being as real and raw as possible.

A Sajid Nadiadwala and Kabir Khan co-production, “Chandu Champion” is based on the legendary Murlikant Petkar, India’s first individual Paralympic gold medalist. An unsung hero who was lost in the pages of history, until one day he turns up at a police station, to file a complaint against the President of India, for cheating him out of a National award.

Not for selfish reasons, but to help his village get better resources through his recognition. Such is the beginning of “Chandu Champion,” where the film unravels the truth of this man’s life.

The man of the hour

Chandu Champion” takes you through Murlikant Petkar’s life in a series of flashbacks.

Born in 1944 in Sangli, Maharashtra, Murlikant Petkar is a dreamer. As a kid from a poor family, he soon realises that he is alone in this dream. His father ridicules him, and his classmates laugh at him and bully him for it. “Chandu Champion!” they mock him, for ‘daring‘ to even dream of the word ‘champion.’

Determined to be an Olympic-winning pehelwan, he declares, “Gold hi jeetega mai,” that day, and sets off on his path.

An impossible path full of obstacles

Imagine this – you’ve worked very hard, through blood, sweat and tears, for that one thing you really want in life. You’re almost there, you can see it in front of you. Then suddenly, everything is gone in a single moment.

Source: Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment/Kabir Khan Films

Now imagine it happening over and over again. That’s how Murli’s life played out.

As a teenager, he trains to be a wrestler but is chased out of his village, falsely accused of cheating to win in dangal.

Murli then enlists in the Indian army, along with a friend he made on the way, Garneil Singh. Inspired to get to the Olympics through the fauj, he is trained by the greats- Major Uttam Singh and boxing coach, Tiger Ali, who takes him under his wing.

In 1964, Petkar went on to represent India in boxing at the International Services Sports Meet in Tokyo, Japan. But due to distractions, he loses his final match and is then posted in Kashmir.

The real tragedy occurs when a surprise attack strikes his camp during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, leaving him injured severely with multiple gunshot wounds. Garneil Singh gets killed during this attack, taking away the only friend Murli ever had.

In “Chandu Champion” this war scene is executed in an ambitious one-shot sequence, making you feel like you are right there, a part of it. Incredible cinematography.

The aftermath of war

Murli falls into a 2-year-long coma and wakes up with memory loss, only to find that he is paralysed from the waist down. The cause of paralysis – a bullet lodged in his spine that could not be removed.

Source: Instagram

This life-changing event, the loss of his friend, and the end of his dream; everything comes crashing down for Murlikant. Luckily, there’s one last glimmer of hope- returning home with his family when they visit him at the infirmary.

But the gut punch from his brother, stopping Murli from coming back home is heart-wrenching. In this despair, Murlikant loses whatever little will to live in him, driving him to attempt suicide but failing. 

The story gets so heavy at this point, but it doesn’t translate for the audience. In an attempt to keep the film light-hearted with humour sprinkled here and there, the emotional impact remained feeble. 

In a turn of events, Murli slowly regains feeling in his paralysed lower body. There’s also a shift in Murli’s life for the better, signified by his winning big in gambling. This pushes him to acknowledge good luck’s role in his life and take another shot at living.

A legend is reborn

A newly optimistic Murli starts swimming as part of rehabilitation and finds passion again. As he rebuilds himself, Tiger Ali, his old boxing coach re-enters his life, inspiring him to contend in the Paralympics.

Like a true sportsman, Murlikant is back at it again. The beauty of being human, betting on his dream all over again, and reaching for gold, for the dream, it’s so inspiring.

After training rigorously, another tragedy strikes in the form of a head injury due to a fall amid a terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. But this time, Murli keeps the pain to himself, because now he can’t afford to lose his last and only chance. 

The 1972 Paralympics was moved to Heidelberg, Germany.

Finally, Murli swims ferociously into the finals at the Paralympics, and the film magic happens. The slow motion with the visuals of Murli overcoming the obstacles as he swims past them, the music, the pride in Tiger’s eyes, the crowd cheering, the Indian flag, and finally winning the Gold medal- goosebumps! 

Murli breaks the world record, setting a new one at 37.33 seconds in the 50-m Freestyle Swimming event. And after all these years, in 2018, when the truth was uncovered after his trip to the police station, Murlikant Petkar was finally awarded the Padma Shri by the President of India.

Kabir Khan’s excellence

From being a pehelwan, a soldier, a boxer, and a war veteran to a gold-winning paralympic swimmer, the extraordinary life of Murlikant Petkar is relived on the big screen.

Source: YouTube

Kabir delivered an unfiltered and unexaggerated film, which is a cinematic unravelling of this real-life story, full of extreme ups and downs. Just as Murli’s life was uncovered slowly, Kabir unveiled this masterpiece, shot by shot, beautifully.

Preserving the crux, Kabir’s vision came through in his simple biopic storytelling format. It has great shoot locations and creative camerawork. “Chandu Champion” also has on-point sports action and a skilful cast that truly delivers.

A great visual language is incorporated in milestone scenes. With each new beginning for Murli, there’s a sun in the frame and people’s silhouettes, like in the scenes where Murli is left behind by his family and Ali announces Murli’s selection for the Paralympics. It’s a build-up signifying a shift into the unknown- an exciting or difficult change coming up for Murli.

However, the film is quite verbose, taking away the potential for nuance. It starts at a great pace in the first half but slows down in the second half, slightly stretching it. 

The Cast and their Impact

Kartik Aaryan trained like a true athlete for this role and has bravely attempted to fill the big shoes of Murlikant Petkar. His physical transformation and sports training is commendable, shining spectacularly in his best film yet. Kartik also manages to bring you into each scene with him. His eyes express his emotions incredibly so, intrinsically reflected in his body language, adding to his screen presence. However, as a biopic, you can’t see Murlikant in Kartik completely. There’s still an actor on the screen instead of an embodiment.

Source: YouTube

The film is more powerful because of its supporting characters. Garnail Singh, played wonderfully by Bhuvan Arora, gives Murli the unconditional love and support a true friendship offers- not as a side-kick but as a real partner. His screen presence was remarkable.

Yashpal Sharma as Major Uttam Singh did a terrific job, and his little screen time managed to show his significant impact. 

Tiger Ali, brought to life by Vijay Raaz’s dynamic performance, was the perfect coach, being exactly who Murli needed- in different capacities, at different junctures, to achieve his goal. The casting could not have been better.

Rajpal Yadav as Topaz came in at the right place and the right time, adding lightness to Murli’s darkest period. His naturally easygoing character, not a forced comedic one, made him stand out.

Shreyas Talpade and Sonali Kulkarni’s roles were minimal yet majorly influential to the story, bringing it all together really well.

The final verdict

Coming to the album, the song “Satyanaas” was almost an attempt at recreating “Maston Ka Jhund” from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. Most of the soundtracks felt very similar to each other but went well with the scenes they were incorporated into.

As a sports biopic, if compared to iconic films like 83, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Dangal, and Mary Kom, “Chandu Champion” hasn’t been able to enter the top league but got close enough.

Overall, “Chandu Champion” did a lovely job bringing the story of Murlikant Petkar to life and giving him much deserved recognition. It has indeed earned the victory and love experienced at the box office. 

It is a feel-good and inspiring film, paying homage to Murlikant, who was forged through major setbacks, rising stronger each time with his sheer determination.

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