Chandu Champion Movie Review: Kabir Khan’s ‘Chandu Champion’ has an alarmingly generic start, but slowly picks up steam to become a moving story about a memorable man

Kabir Khan
The film stars Kartik Aaryan and Vijay Raaz. The two actors click well, and they steer us through this journey of India’s first Paralympic gold medalist.
Chandu Champion Movie Review

Chandu Champion Movie Cast & Crew

Production : Kabir Khan Films,Nadiadwala Grandson Entertainment
Director : Kabir Khan

Chandu Champion opens with that most dreaded of openings: the “disbelieving” framing device. I think it may be time to retire this trope of meeting someone in the present, refusing to believe their story, and then – as we keep returning to this point – the disbelief slowly turns to interest and then awe. The disbeliever in this particular framing device is a hammy cop played by Shreyas Talpade, stationed in Sangli, Maharashtra. He just refuses to believe that the old man in front of him – Murlikant Petkar (Kartik Aaryan) – was an athlete. “Ha ha ha,” he laughs. We flash back to 1952, when Murli, as a little boy, tells his friends that he will win an Olympic Gold Medal. “Ha ha ha,” they laugh. A little later, Murli tells a local wrestler and his students he wants that medal. “Ha ha ha,” they laugh. Why stuff so much disbelief into a screenplay, when the audience already believes that this is the story of a great achiever? Why else would this biopic get made?

The first half of Kabir Khan’s film is broad and generic, filled with circus-style background music. When Murli is picked to lose against a wrestler, we know that he will win despite the fact that he has not yet been taught much technique. When Murli hears about a plane crash, we know that the scene is a plant for a future scene where he will refuse to fly, fearing that his plane will crash. By the time we come to the scene where Murli is in Tokyo for the Military Games and there’s some “comedy” in his attempt to use a fork and knife, I wondered if we are still the kind of audience that needs to be entertained first, before being ushered into a story of tragedy and resilience and inspiration. Anyway, that's the design of most of the pre-interval portions, and what kept me watching was Sudeep Chatterjee’s superb cinematography. Whatever the quality of his writing, Kabir Khan knows how to stage a scene for a big screen. The film looks fantastic.

The narrative has a Forrest Gump-ish quality of putting Murli in a number of situations in a number of locations, and also in how much of a role chance had to play in this man’s life. The way he meets the Sardar who will become his best and only friend, for example: it is a lovely stretch that showcases Murli’s skills in wrestling and running and swimming, and it also involves a train and the idea to join the army. Chandu Champion really takes off after Murli is shot in the 1965 India-Pakistan war. He is crippled, and if he still wants that Olympic medal, he needs to consider other sports that are part of the Paralympics, which are for athletes with a range of disabilities. This sort of movie lives and dies by the quality of the gruff-but-loving mentor, and Murli lucks into Tiger Ali, played by a stupendously effective Vijay Raaz. 

Kartik Aaryan is endearing in the early, goofy portions – but the minute Vijay Raaz enters the frame, Kartik’s performance rises to another level. The scene where Murli moves from the joy of watching his childhood hero Dara Singh to incredulousness and anger and hope when his mentor suggests the Paralympics – it’s a range that’s beyond anything Kartik’s pulled off so far. The scenes start locking in better, too – because the filler stuff, like a half-hearted romantic infatuation, goes away. I loved the stretch where Murli asks for a second chance and Tiger Ali talks about his second chance. I loved the sight of Tiger Ali fuming silently in an empty stadium, after an important boxing match that Murli should have been watching with him. I was moved by the repeated angle of chance (Murli attributes it to God) that refuses to let him die, because apparently, he’s destined  to get that damned medal.

The supporting cast is excellent. I teared up during several moments involving Murli and Tiger Ali, who slowly becomes the father figure Murli never had. Other people – even family – come and go in Murli’s life, but Tiger remains a constant. Brajendra Kala is fantastic as a prisoner with an unbelievable amount of street smarts and general knowledge: that’s the pitch of comedy this film needed, not the broad exertions of Shreyas Talpade that would have fit better in a Rohit Shetty outing. Rajpal Yadav gets a solid role after a long time. As with everyone else, the character feels generic at first. But slowly, the writing and the acting create a memorably specific part of Murlikant Petkar’s journey. Kabir Khan’s last film, 83, was about an event that held few surprises. Chandu Champion is about an unknown hero, and I was truly moved and inspired by Murli’s achievements. However the film fares at the box office, it’s nice that it got made. The man deserves a monument. At least, he got a movie.

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Baradwaj Rangan

National Award-winning film critic Baradwaj Rangan, former deputy editor of The Hindu and senior editor of Film Companion, has carved a niche for himself over the years as a powerful voice in cinema, especially the Tamil film industry, with his reviews of films. While he was pursuing his chemical engineering degree, he was fascinated with the writing and analysis of world cinema by American critics. Baradwaj completed his Master’s degree in Advertising and Public Relations through scholarship. His first review was for the Hindi film Dum, published on January 30, 2003, in the Madras Plus supplement of The Economic Times. He then started critiquing Tamil films in 2014 and did a review on the film Subramaniapuram, while also debuting as a writer in the unreleased rom-com Kadhal 2 Kalyanam. Furthermore, Baradwaj has authored two books - Conversations with Mani Ratnam, 2012, and A Journey Through Indian Cinema, 2014. In 2017, he joined Film Companion South and continued to show his prowess in critiquing for the next five years garnering a wide viewership and a fan following of his own before announcing to be a part of Galatta Media in March 2022.