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Chandu Champion: Kabir Khan and Kartik Aaryan gives champion Chandu his much-deserved cinematic tale!

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Sakshi Sharma
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Chandu Champion review

Chandu Champion review

Labelling 'Chandu Champion' as a mere sports biopic would be an understatement. This Bollywood sports drama, a commercial marvel, is a vibrant adaptation of the larger-than-life journey of Murlikant Petkar, also known as Chandu Champion, from the real world to the silver screen! 

Looking closely at someone's life, you'll realise that almost everyone's life can be turned into cinema. No wonder biopics are such a mad rush to watch because where else would you find a perfect source to blend real-life drama with fiction? But some people's lives are so cinematic that it is a story just waiting to be adapted into a film, which is precisely what Chandu Champion is! Much more than a sports biopic, it is a full-package Bollywood masala entertainer that finds comedy, action, emotion, drama, and tragedy in the life of Murlikant Petkar, which already sounds like an unbelievable fiction. 

It is based on the life of India's first Paralympian gold medalist, Murlikant Petkar, a small-town common man who dreams of winning an Olympic gold medal for India, surviving through constant hurdles to finally achieve a record-breaking feat as a disabled swimmer in the 1972 Munich Olympics. The film becomes heartwarmingly enjoyable because of its inventive and genre-bending storytelling. Because as much as sports biopics unveil the extraordinary tales of unsung heroes, they are also slowly becoming tiring that follow the similar patterns offering nothing new. In that case, this film takes a refreshing approach as Kabir Khan reigns in his experience of uplifting a genre from its core. He understands that Petkar is a self-made, real-life hero whose life and achievements doesn't need to be reiterated into the same template of a sports biopic about a champion who won against all odds. Instead, it must be adapted into a hero-centric mass commercial film focusing on building an identity where sports become incidental in a good way. Hence, the film chooses the 73-year-old Petkar himself to narrate his life story that focuses on his angry childhood days, growing up with a passion for wrestling, army days with a switch to boxing, his war injury shifting him to swimming, and his massive win. So we get to see his life journey as a poster image for, 'Life doesn't happen to you, it happens for you'!

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Given that this film follows and develops who Petkar is as a person, it heavily relies on Kartik Aaryan, who, in his career-defining performance, boldly shoulders the film. Apart from his extreme physical transformation, his acting effort is also visible. With each dialogue and scene, it is clear that we are seeing Aaryan and not Petkar, but this isn't bad as it works in the film's favor. Because it gives the larger-than-life of Petkar, who has no resemblance to Aaryan in reality, a chance to be a hero on the 75mm screen. And Aaryan's hard work synchronizes with Petkar's personality, which relies on working hard to achieve everything. Even each sport in the film, from wrestling and boxing to swimming, is a chance encounter, which he turned into a passion with his sheer dedication and training. Just like each tragic situation, whether it is running or staying away from home, the 1965 Kashmir war, the 1972 Munich terrorist attack, a failed suicide attempt, or anything else in his life, was turned into an opportunity. This reflects that Petkar was not some born prodigy destined for greatness! In fact he is an ordinary man with big dreams who needs constant motivation, help from others and learn to get back up eveytime life makes him fall down.

As unique as this film is, it is also familiar! It works its innovations within the confines of cliche tropes and caricatures, reminding you of other Bollywood films. Bunch of comedic police officers gives vibes of Rohit Shetty's comedy style, or the whole hospital phase gives off Munna Bhai MBBS vibes. And the shadow of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag looms large over the film especially on the time spend in army and in Tokyo but doesn't overpower it! The film finds its smooth and accessible rhythm with its picturesque cinematography, skillfully choreographed scenes (training montages) perfectly tied up against tunefully background scores, and soundtracks. Certain song and dance sequences seem abrupt and out of place; nevertheless, they are still enjoyable! The split-second rushed pace works well for the sporting spirit of the film especially at the swimming pool climax where every breath becomes like a flipbook of Petkar's life. But this also makes it hard to invest fully in the film emotionally making it not so memorable! Still, a talented pool of supporting cast like Vijay Raaz, Bhuvan Arora, Rajpal Yadav, Yashpal Sharma, Shreyas Talpade, and others with their perfect timing, become constant, reliable pillars for Aaryan and the film. 

Set in a time when Dara Singh and Matka (sattebaazi) existed, Chandu Champion is not attempting to rewrite history or champion for Chandu. In fact, it just marks Petkar's footprint in the past in a way that makes his personal story of overcoming frequent life challenges become a beacon of hope and inspiration for people to believe that anyone can do anything. And what could be better than repainting this story as a mainstream cinema, whose predictability and escape we chase for some comfort? Everyone's life deserves a chance for a Bollywood makeover, especially people like Murlikant Petkar and I am all for it! 

Chandu Champion is in theatres near you! 

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