chandu champion review
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Not many filmmakers understand the grammar of underdog victories like Kabir Khan does. The template seldom weans. Yet the formula is never foolproof. It takes the right craft to curate a story that does not cry for sympathy but makes you shed tears of joy. In his latest feature Chandu Champion – headlined by Kartik Aaryan – Khan takes us to a familiar zone of sports, disability, poverty, mentorship, and complex family ties.

Khan’s film opens in the most regular fashion one could have imagined. A septuagenarian named Murlikant (Kartik Aaryan with prosthetics) lands at a cop station to a register complaint against the President of India. He wishes his village on the outskirts of Maharashtra’s Sangli to prosper, and the only way out is to seek a long-delayed and richly deserved Arjuna Award. As the cops (led by a loveable Shreyas Talpade) laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea, I groaned a little assuming how Chandu Champion aimed to become a hardcore vanity project.

Guess I was wrong. The film in no time catches the pulse of a child who dreams to become an Olympic Gold medalist. The visual that enamored the young lad was that of a former Bronze-medalist receiving a glorious welcome in his village. It’s a believable, innocent dream of an unassuming child. Coming from a filmmaker who knows the syntax of patriotic cinema, Chandu Champion contains nationalism only in traces. Murli wishes to join the military only so that it becomes his outlet to the Olympic Games. Such was the honesty in his priorities that I could equate Lakshya’s Karan Shergill (Hrithik Roshan) to be Murli’s soul-sibling.

At the military camp, Murli makes his first and only friend (Bhuvan Arora, charming), meets a strict trainer (an effective Yashpal Sharma), and, eventually, a mentor for a lifetime (Vijay Raaz). Murli soon sharpens his wrestling skills to take up boxing, takes a tormenting flight to Japan, wins, loses and tastes alcohol – until dual tragedies strike in form of punches and missiles.

Chandu Champion, in its third act, turns into a much better film with a coherent emotional arc and better situations. One observation about these portions is that the film stops behaving like a period saga. The cinematography (Sudeep Chatterjee) and the production design are perfectly in sync – yet the universality and the time-tested nature of the dilemma are gutting. In an affecting scene, Murli hears a rant from his older brother (Aniruddh Dave). It’s a Catch-22 situation where we empathize equally with both parties considering the economic state of the nation, let alone the financial condition of the family. Khan’s film refuses to trigger any more tears as it quickly moves on to making Murli re-analyze his life goal – to win an Olympic Gold medal.

ALSO READ: ’83’ review – Kabir Khan’s rousing cricket saga will get you teary-eyed

The final act sees the return of a beloved character and the film plummets into familiar yet touching realms of struggle and subsequent victory. In Kabir Khan’s world, even the stock characters work wonders. Be it the well-meaning hospital peon Topaz (Rajpal Yadav at his adorable best), the spirited journalist (Sonali Kulkarni, seemingly Maharashtrian but with perfect pronunciation of Urdu words), or the apprehensive members of the Sports Council, it’s a world filled with good people. Chandu Champion is yet another Kabir Khan film with no definitive antagonist. In a way inferior film released earlier this month (Srikanth), the protagonist with a disability was tortured to an extent that fighting bullies became his sole personality.

Chandu Champion, towards the finale, oscillates more frequently between the past and present to make the storytelling far more interesting than how it started. Nitin Baid’s editing lends a kind of sharpness that intersects the chapters without making Murli a crybaby at any point. The DOP makes the village-bound period drama a visual delight with many frames of picture-postcard quality. The original score (Julius Packiam) is exhilarating even though a catchy musical number (songs by Pritam) is missing.

A darling of the masses, Kartik Aaryan as a performer is an acquired taste. That said, the actor’s efforts in Chandu Champion comes a rare vulnerability. It’s an earnest, impactful act wherein he shapeshifts into the focused paralympic champion. In a whole new zone with a Maharashtrian accent and extreme physical exertion at play, the film lets the actor in him take a rebirth. Vijay Raaz’s strong presence becomes a solid sounding board for the leading man. It’s impossible to not tear up along with Raaz’s temperamental Tiger Ali as we witness the film’s rousing pre-climax. Khan hires seasoned actors even in minuscule parts which turns out to be a fruitful decision. While they expectedly deliver, their presence adds a certain starry wattage that a low-key narrative requires from a commercial standpoint.  

Kabir Khan’s beautifully shot, ably performed, and emotionally potent film surfaced in the cinemas without a stable buzz. Advertised incorrectly as a Bhaag Milkha Bhaag equivalent, Chandu Champion is a lot more. In the era of overnight verdicts and tweet reviews, it remains to be seen how a genuine tearjerker would make waves at the box office. If only it had an over-enthusiastic marketing team with zany ideas like, say, remixing Anu Malik’s hit number ‘Hai Aisa Champion Kahaan‘ with a Gen-Z actress. Okay, let me stop right there. 

Rating: ★★★ 1/2

About Post Author

Tusshar Sasi

Author at Filmy Sasi
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