Kartik Aaryan on becoming ‘Chandu Champion’

In an interview, actor Aaryan and director Kabir Khan talk trials, triumphs and turbulence

By Sadiq Saleem

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Kartik Aryan, actor poses for a photo during the promotion to the movie, 'Chandu Champion' in Dubai on Friday, June 7, 2024. Photo by Shihab.
Kartik Aryan, actor poses for a photo during the promotion to the movie, 'Chandu Champion' in Dubai on Friday, June 7, 2024. Photo by Shihab.

Published: Sun 9 Jun 2024, 6:19 PM

In biopics, there exists a delicate balance between honouring the truth and crafting a compelling narrative. It's imperative for a biopic to remain faithful to the facts, resisting the temptation to idealise or sanitise its subject. Instead, the true essence lies in humanising the individual, portraying their flaws, struggles, and triumphs with honesty and authenticity.

However, this pursuit of authenticity comes with its own set of challenges. While striving to present the subject as they truly were, there's a risk of veering into a documentary-style presentation, potentially resulting in a dry and unengaging motion picture. Every filmmaker appreciates that it's a tightrope walk to navigate between factual accuracy and cinematic storytelling.

That's where Kabir Khan steps in; the director behind the highly anticipated biopic Chandu Champion, which chronicles the extraordinary life and achievements of India's first Paralympic gold medallist, Murlikant Petkar. Khan believes in transparency and advocates for calling a spade a spade. In his previous sports biopic on Kapil Dev, 83, Khan demonstrated his unwavering dedication to truthfulness by retaining a contentious scene where Kapil Dev bluntly urges Sunil Gavaskar to step up his game. This decision showcases Khan's willingness to confront uncomfortable truths, even if they challenge the heroics typically associated with sports legends.

Honouring a legacy

“There is always a risk of romanticising and over-glossing the subject when making a film on it. But in Chandu Champion, viewers can expect a portrayal that honours the legacy of Mr. Petkar while unflinchingly revealing the intricacies of his journey," Khan tells City Times in an interview in Dubai. "It was crucial for us to showcase the lows and moments of vulnerability because without them, the triumphs lose their significance. There were times when Mr. Petkar faced moments of despair and doubt, and it was important to capture those struggles authentically, as they ultimately lend depth to his resilience. However, I don't believe this burden of authenticity should fall solely on biopics. In many films, the tendency is to portray the lead character in a pristine light who is devoid of any flaws. I prefer to explore the greys.

“Ultimately, authenticity should always take precedence over popularity. If your goal is simply to cater to the masses, you risk compromising the integrity of the narrative. As a filmmaker, my focus is on staying true to the subject matter and presenting it in a way that resonates with honesty and depth,’’ Khan, whose streak of hit films is any director's dream, says confidently.

Having said that, it takes more than just a stellar script and a visionary director for the biopic to resonate with the audience. The lead actor's ability to convincingly inhabit the role is of utmost importance. And Kartik Aaryan's dedication to his craft in the upcoming biopic is nothing short of commendable.

Despite the lack of abundant references, Aaryan has delved deep into the psyche and physique of his character, immersing himself in the rigorous training regimen required to portray a swimmer, army man, and a wrestler. His commitment is palpable in every frame of the film's trailer, showcasing a transformation that promises authenticity and sincerity.

A testament to ingenuity

Comparisons to the likes of Ranbir Kapoor (who played Sunjay Dutt in the movie Sanju) and Ranveer Singh (who played Dev in the biopic 83), who had ample references and interactions with their real-life counterparts, underscore the magnitude of Aaryan's accomplishment. While they had the luxury of first-hand experiences and coffee-table books on their subjects to refine their portrayals, Aaryan's portrayal stands out for its sheer determination and ingenuity.

“I'd say this has been one of the most demanding roles of my career. The preparation was incredibly challenging because it involved not just looking the part but also fully embodying the character as per Kabir sir's vision. I had to immerse myself in the mindset of an athlete – understanding how they move, how they talk, how they think. It required intense physical training to master skills like swimming, wrestling, and boxing, which took a toll on me both physically and mentally. While doing all that, I was also deconstructing myself ki main Kartik na dikhoon screen par [I do not look like Kartik on screen]. I was constantly consumed by thoughts of Chandu Champion, of Murlikant Petkar ji, and everything related to him. It was a deeply immersive process, involving numerous workshops and reading sessions, even breaking down sentences to ensure I portrayed the character accurately. It was a test of patience and persistence, but ultimately, a rewarding journey. I want to thank Kabir sir for putting so much faith in me’,’ said the Shehzada actor.

Bringing forth the forgotten heroes

He added that “…a lot of blood and sweat has gone into making this film, and we are excited to share it with the people of UAE today. Every time my film is about to be released, Dubai gets to see it first, and I am always looking forward to the reaction of the audience from this part of the world. This one is even more special as it's inspirational, entertaining, and full of thrill – it’s a story that needs to be told and seen. It's tragic that archives are filled with so many heroes, and they are lost forever if their stories are not brought forward. I am just happy that I got to be a part of it to bring it to the big screen. My wish is that everyone should go and see it so they recognise what a true inspiration Mr. Petkar is, and it will teach so much about resilience and not giving up.’’

The trailer reveals that in the later stages of his life, Petkar initiated legal action against the President of India for perceived partial treatment, having been denied the prestigious Arjuna Awards given for Outstanding Performance in Sports and Games, an accolade conferred by the Government of India. Drawing inspiration from this true-life event, we inquired of Aaryan whether receiving a tangible award holds significance for him or if he seeks something deeper than mere recognition on a plaque. Aaryan responded that “these days new awards are being launched almost daily, leading to a gradual decline in their significance. Every magazine and digital platform seems to have its own set of awards, resulting in a saturation. It's a simple case of supply and demand – an excess of anything inevitably impacts its value”.

Khan noted that “these ceremonies have become more about the spectacle than the recognition itself. They are more like an event than an award function. The real award is the impact that your work creates”.

Sitting among the audience

Aaryan added: “The true reward lies in the ongoing opportunities and the genuine affection of audiences. That's why, whenever my film hits the screens, I make it a point to sit among the audience and witness their reactions first-hand. Their response is what truly matters, and no award can give you that feeling”.

In the movie trailer Aaryan's character can be seen exhibiting a fear of flying. When queried about whether he shares a similar phobia, Aaryan confirmed, " I'm quite jittery when it comes to turbulence as I tend to get nervous while flying. During our journey to Dubai, we encountered severe turbulence at one point, and it really had me on edge in my seat. With our busy schedule of promotions, I haven't had the chance to catch up on sleep, and I was hoping to grab some rest during the flight. However, the turbulence was so intense that it kept me alert throughout the journey. I constantly scan outside, and check if the way is clear or if it is too cloudy. I check the number of hours remaining for the journey to end. So yes, I am a very nervous flyer".

Chandu Champion is scheduled to hit UAE theatres on June 14.

Sadiq Saleem is a UAE-based writer and can be contacted on his Instagram handle @sadiqidas.


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