Chandu Champion review: An affecting life story of a man who never stopped dreaming

While Kartik Aaryan comes of age in a role that tests his mettle fully as an actor, Kabir Khan returns to prime form with this film.

BySrivathsan Nadadhur

Published:Jun 21, 2024

Kabir Khan's directorial Chandu Champion

Chandu Champion

14-06-2024, Biography/ Sports Drama, 2 hours 23 minutes U/A
  • Main Cast:Kartik Aaryan, Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav, and Bhuvan Arora
  • Director:Kabir Khan
  • Producer:Sajid Nadiadwala
  • Music Director:Pritam Chakraborty
  • Cinematography:Bosco Caeser



One feels tempted to say that Chandu Champion, the reel life story of Paralympian Murlikant Petkar, is the work of Bollywood’s analytics department.

The film brings together Kabir Khan (an expert at anything associated with national pride and espionage) and Kartik Aaryan (a commercially bankable star) placing their bet on a winning horse, a sports biopic designed to inspire.

That Hindi filmmakers have found refuge in biopics would be stating the obvious. The first half of 2024 has witnessed scores of biopics already—of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (Main Atal Hoon), Usha Mehta (Ae Watan Mere Watan), Amar Singh Chamkila (named after him), Vinod Damodar Savarkar (Swatantrya Veer Savarkar), Syed Abdul Rahim (Maidaan), and Srikanth Bolla (Srikanth).

Despite Chandu Champion‘s loyalty to the “biopic factory” model, it’s hard to remain unmoved by Murlikant Petkar’s story, who was abandoned by his village, served as an army man, and went on to claim a gold medal in the 1972 Paralympics.

While the film intends to celebrate the life of the Padma Shri awardee, Kabir Khan does a stellar job at translating it into a compelling, affecting experience too.

Maharaja review: Vijay Sethupathi reigns in this convoluted yet convincing drama

Smart storytelling

Kartik Aaryan plays Paralympian Murlikant Petkar in the film

Kartik Aaryan plays Paralympian Murlikant Petkar in the film. (X)

In one of the film’s early sequences, a young Murlikant is seated on the broad shoulders of his elder brother to welcome Independent India’s first gold medalist Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav at a railway station.

As a witness to the sight of an entire village celebrating his return to India, it’s entrenched in his mind that an Olympic medal could be his ticket to dignity and respect.

He’s later chased out of his village when he “accidentally” wins a kushti match against a higher-caste kid. From miraculously joining the army to cheating death and rediscovering his purpose in life, Murlikant keeps rising above obstacles because he has nowhere to return.

The film poignantly reflects the inner turmoil of an ambitious boy who never stopped dreaming.

The storytelling perspective is smart. The ignorant cop is in place to represent an average viewer, as he discovers a forgotten chapter of India’s sports history through Murlikant himself.

Watching a poker-faced Kartik Aaryan in an elderly avatar isn’t the most comfortable of sights and the film works best when it traces the sportsman’s life in his younger years.

While chronicling the significant events in Murlikant’s life, Kabir Khan lightens up the ambience effectively.

Kartik Aaryan gets his “Chaiyya Chaiyya” moment with Satynaas as he dances atop a train. Murlikant and Karnail’s playful friendship, from their carefree days in the army, the first brush with champagne, and struggles with English in Japan, are a source of instant joy on the screen.

Veteran Rajpal Yadav’s presence as Topaz, a helper in a hospital (who happens to be a habitual gambler) serves as an outlet for Murlikant to express his innermost feelings without filters.

Unlike 1983, where there wasn’t a strong emotional link to complement the on-field action, Kabir Khan focuses more on the protagonist’s mind space and sincerely tries to see the world through his eyes.

The timely references to Dhyanchand, Milkha Singh, and Dara Singh as readymade sources of inspiration bring more context to the times and enrich the narrative.

In the scenes where Vijay Raaz’s Tiger Ali is your typical headstrong coach, churning out motivational speeches and pushing Murlikant to his limits, the writing is delightfully conversational (without making the dialogues sound like sermons).

Grrr review: Kunchacko Boban, Suraj Venjaramoodu, and the lion are the USP

A reverential biopic

Kabir Khan’s biggest test as a filmmaker had to be the first half, given he had to build a convincing portrait of Murlikant and had more work to do than ‘Wikipedia’ entries on the screen.

After intermission, the film is naturally more impactful because there’s sufficient material for ‘inspiration’; the character hits an all-time low, bounces back, is forgotten by many, and is rediscovered later.

This is a reverential biopic and that’s a part of its problem. There’s a rigidity in Murlikant’s characterisation. He’s a winner come what may.

As a kid, the Olympic medal remains the only area of focus in his life. Even in his early army days, he is single-minded about his wrestling interests. Except for once, he remains psychologically resolute and isn’t ‘humanised’ enough.

A film’s aftertaste is predominantly determined by how it ends and that’s where Chandu Champion scores big.

Arriving at the same station where he glimpsed the arrival of the country’s first Olympics medalist, it’s now his turn to be a source of hope for a young girl who greets him. Life indeed comes full circle.

Julius Packiam’s score sums up the essence of the moment beautifully.

Also Read: ‘Kalki 2898 AD’ makers accused of plagiarism

Kartik Aaryan & Bhuvan Arora excel

Kartik Aaryan in a still from Chandu Champion

Kartik Aaryan in a still from ‘Chandu Champion’. (X)

Kartik Aaryan comes of age in a role that tests his mettle fully as an actor (much like Murlikant in the film). He lends a delicate, sensitive touch to the portrayal of a man who never gives up on himself.

Bhuvan Arora has a terrific screen presence as Garnail Singh, the only man Murlikant called his “friend”.

Yashpal Sharma and Aniruddh Dave do what’s expected of them.

The cameos from Shreyas Talpade to Bhagyashri Borse to Sonali Kulkarni are the icing on the cake.

Pritam, one of the few reasons viewers haven’t lost hope in Hindi film music yet, is in top form. The timing of “Sarphira” and “Satyanaas” in the narrative is equally memorable.

Jumping across multiple timelines, from muddy grounds to lavish stadia to closed set pieces, Sudeep Chatterjee’s cinematography intimately depicts the crests and troughs of a man’s eventful journey across various backdrops.

Final take

Is Chandu Champion director Kabir Khan’s best? The debate will rage on in the days to come, but the more important news is his return to prime form and for that reason alone, it merits a theatrical viewing.

(Views expressed here are personal.)

(Edited by S Subhakeerthana)

(South First is now on WhatsApp and Telegram)