“Actor Kartik Aaryan was excited to play the challenging role in Chandu Champion. His energy motivated me,” says director-screenwriter Kabir Khan



Imagine being in a coma, dodging bullets, running away from home, working for the Indian Army, and then turning your life around by winning a Paralympic gold medal, the first for India. Murlikant Petkar makes for an inspiring 70 mm story.

Chandu Champion director Kabir Khan, who has given several box office wins such as Ek Tha Tiger, Bajrangi Bhaijaan, and 83, met war veteran Petkar and was floored. Khan says Petkar, a Padma Shri awardee, joined the Indian Army, as he had defeated a sarpanch’s son in wrestling. He was a natural boxer, and won the national title in 1965. The same year, during the Indo-Pak war, he was hit by nine bullets, one lodged in his spine paralysing him, and inducing a coma.

Swimming was suggested as therapy. At the 1972 Paralympics, Petkar won a gold medal; his record time of 37.33 seconds in the 50 metres freestyle is yet to be beaten.

Actor Kartik Aaryan who plays Petkar in the biopic, Chandu Champion, admits that it was tough to follow the regimen of swimming and boxing – two strenuous activities he had never indulged in. “Working in action films is always challenging, as it is not your usual characterisation,” says Aaryan, adding it is the first biopic of his career and that it was a big responsibility on his shoulders. The actor, who worked on the role for two years, almost lived it. “In the trailer you can hopefully see Mr. Murli, not Kartik,” smiles Aaryan.

Kabir Khan, who also scripts his films, says, “The film encapsulates Murli sir’s journey for which the research must be strong. I have attempted to highlight his achievements. For me, the human side of the story is more important — his dreams, aspirations, and how he overcame obstacles. The real material is larger-than-life — it is a true story.”

Khan admits Aaryan was his first choice for the film. A meeting between the two, planned for half-an-hour, went on for four hours. Aaryan seemed excited to play the role. “His energy motivated me to close the deal; I instantly liked him,” says Khan. The film produced by Sajid Nadiadwala is scheduled to release on June 14, 2024.

Aaryan’s only question on seeing the ingenious content was why it wasn’t made earlier? “I have admired Kabir sir for his precision and attention to detail. I am a big fan of his,” says Aaryan, who saw that the film was in safe hands. It has been a self-revelatory trek for him even as he broke down his past image of a chocolate boy, and learnt everything from scratch — boxing to swimming.

“I starred opposite trained boxers and swimmers. I used to be scared just seeing them in the pool or ring. I had to lose weight, and look lean. There was controlled protein intake, functional training, body weights, handstands and push-ups, I had to resemble an athlete. For Freddy, my earlier film, I gained kilos,” says Aaryan. As he comes from a family of doctors, they were used to seeing him eat copious amounts of food; suddenly everything had to be measured. “I shifted to salads, greens, and abandoned my love for desi khana — parathas, lassi,” he adds. He says, after speaking Gujarati in Satyaprem Ki Katha and now Marathi for Chandu Champion, he often mixes dialects.

For Khan, this movie was in some ways an eye-opener to human character — how there is someone, who refuses to hang his boots, and fights till the end. “Despite life knocking him down repeatedly, he never gives in,” he says, adding that on the set, everyone worked like a team, as they were all motivated to do justice to Murli sir’s pain, sorrow, and suffering, celebrating his rise from ashes like a phoenix.

“I started questioning myself. Should I be worried about small problems in life after closely watching his ordeal, and meeting his family?” says Khan.

In the middle of our conversation, a small gang of girls came by. One of them, who came to Aaryan, almost fainted exclaiming how much she was in love with him. “Female fan base makes me happy, I don’t like to disappoint them. I never refuse photos or autographs. If just smiling at them makes them happy, why not?” says Aaryan. When he sees reels made on him, he adds his “likes” to them as a thank you gesture. “To get this following, I have worked very hard and non-stop,” says Aaryan, dressed in a green military patchwork jacket, brown pull-on boots, and drainpipe trousers.

Aaryan admits he is a director’s actor, and that half the battle is won if you have a logical, practical, and sensible director like Khan. “I could pull off the role of an ageing man towards the end of Chandu Champion because of such a director,” says Aaryan. “We would start using prosthetics at 4 a.m. in the morning; it was a four-hour procedure for a 10 a.m. call time. I wanted the ending scene to be powerful and convincing. Afterall, Murli sir’s story is of a man who refused to surrender.” – Asmita Aggarwal is fashion & lifestyle editor of nrifocus.com


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