'Chandu Champion' movie review: Not a solid pitch

Kabir Khan’s sports film gives Kartik Aaryan, known for gullible comedies, new ground to play on but it’s still an unremarkable film
A still from the film
A still from the film

During the first inciting incident in Chandu Champion, Kartik Aaryan wrestles, swims, runs, and catches a moving train, all in a span of about five minutes. An impressive feat which does seem like an exhibition of the actor’s physicality, but it also serves as a prelude for what’s about to come. The film is based on the heroic, “forgotten” story of Murlikant Petkar, a boxer, whose lower body is paralysed after he suffers nine bullet injuries in a skirmish during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war. He springs back, takes up swimming and becomes the first paralympic gold medallist in the country.

Now, personally, I am tired of Hindi sports films being inspirational biopics or closeted patriotic calls. The real-life story behind the film, however, provided enough fodder for the telling of a more interior tale. I kept going back to Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (A song with jawans dancing inside a train only added fire to the ‘Hawan kund maston ka jhund’), Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s 2013 biopic of sprinter Milkha Singh.

That film was more of an intricate study of Partition trauma than a rousing sports drama. In comparison, Chandu Champion chiefly remains one-dimensional. It tries to balance itself on the single-minded aim of its central character: win an Olympic gold. However, it soon becomes an exercise in repetition. If you have followed the film’s director Kabir Khan’s previous works, Chandu Champion is Tubelight (2017), if it suddenly decided to become a sports film.

We start with an old man in a police station, asking to file a case against the President of India. As the cops sit around in amazement (led by a goofy Shreyas Talpade), Kartik Aaryan’s Murlikant Petkar (in a quite fake, salt-and-pepper hairpiece) narrates his story. Sitting atop the shoulders of his elder brother, a young Murli witnesses the uproarious welcome of India’s first Olympic medallist KD Jadhav. A seed is sown and the youngling proclaims his dream of getting gold for the country. Not knowing anything better, he takes up wrestling at a local akhada.

Kabir Khan, director, Chandu Champion
Kabir Khan, director, Chandu Champion

Expectedly, he is subject to his father’s scorn and ridicule from the people of his village. They call him Chandu (a slang term for dimwit) as he screams back ‘I am Champeeon’. After he wins a wrestling match he was supposed to lose, Murlikant is chased out of the village. He ultimately joins the Army and is introduced to boxing. The sports-drama template kicks in. A training montage, a winning hook (followed by Kartik’s mouthguard-adorned toothy smile), fame and a fall, after he is mortally injured in an air raid in Kashmir.

An underdog, an undying hope and a war, Chandu Champion is a textbook Kabir Khan presentation. The director’s flair for the medium shines in the one-take sequence where Kartik’s Murlikant gets shot as warplanes bombard their army base (cinematography by Sudeep Chatterjee). The boxing matches, under a golden hue, have a feverish urgency. The film, however, remains a predictable sports drama with scenes like the one in which the simpleton lead screams his fright aboard his first flight (did I mention Milkha?). Chandu Champion performs during intense moments but its light interludes remain functional.

With this film, Kartik, known for playing gleaming gullibles in comedies, gets new ground to play on. He is eager and sincere and his performance syncs with the film even if it is unable to lift it. The supporting cast, however, shines more with exceptional talents like Vijay Raaz, Rajpal Yadav, and Bhuvan Arora (Firoz from Farzi). Vijay, especially, brings an earthy spark to his character as Murlikant’s coach. The emotional connection the film offers sometimes sticks and sometimes slips. It is derivative and didactic but it is also delving at times. Kartik gives an endearing innocence to Murlikant but the predictable storytelling of the movie pulls down the effect. Chandu Champion unlike its protagonist, doesn’t want to take chances.

Chandu Champion

Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Vijay Raaz, Bhuvan Arora, Rajpal Yadav, Shreyas Talpade, Yashpal Sharma

Director: Kabir Khan

Rating : 2.5/5

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