Punekar News Exclusive: From War Hero to Paralympic Champion, The Real Story Behind ‘Chandu Champion’

Share this News:

Reported By Varad Bhatkhande

Pune, 19th June 2024: Today, the world is appreciating Kartik Aaryan for his marvellous performance in the newly released sports biopic, ‘Chandu Champion’. Within just five days of its release, the movie has collected almost Rs 40 crores. Many critics say that Kartik Aaryan has revived his career with this portrayal of a Paralympic gold medallist and former military man. While Kartik Aaryan’s praises are well-deserved, the real man behind the character is somewhat overshadowed. However, Punekar News brings you insights from their recent interview with the man, the myth and the legend himself: Padma Shri Murlikant Petkar.

Murlikant Petkar, born on 1st of November 1944, in Maharashtra’s Sangli district, is India’s first Paralympic gold medalist. He won the gold medal in the 1972 Summer Paralympics held in Heidelberg, Germany, setting a world record in the 50m freestyle swimming event with a time of 37.33 seconds. At the same Paralympics, Petkar also competed in javelin, precision javelin throw, and slalom, reaching the finals in all three events.

In recognition of his achievements, he was awarded the Padma Shri in 2018 by the then-President of India, Ram Nath Kovind. Before his Paralympic success, Petkar served as a subhedar of the craftsman rank in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers (EME) of the Indian Army. He was injured during the 1965 war against Pakistan, sustaining nine bullet wounds that left him disabled. Originally a boxer at EME, Secunderabad, Petkar switched to swimming and other sports after his injury. He also participated in table tennis at the 1968 Summer Paralympics, advancing past the first round. In addition to his Paralympic gold, he won four medals in swimming. Later, he was employed by TELCO in Pune.

His life has been full of ups and downs. He aspired to become a boxing gold medalist until, at the age of 21, he found himself crippled after sustaining nine bullet wounds during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, where he defended his country with the determination to fight till his last breath. After the war, he somehow survived, but inside he felt dead, as his dream of being a gold medalist for the country was shattered. At just 21, with his whole life ahead of him, he repeatedly thought that his dream had ended until he discovered the Paralympics. With his never-give-up attitude and a recovery that spanned nearly two years, Murlikant became a version of himself he never thought possible. From birth, Petkar was interested in sports and had an unending passion for his country, India.

Remembering his early days, Padma Shri Murlikant Petkar said, “From birth, I was interested in all types of sports, be it boxing, wrestling, hockey, swimming, or anything else. My passion for boxing grew as I began to grow. As I matured and started understanding the world, my dream was to serve our nation, which led me to join the Army. While serving the country through the Army, my dream was also to win a gold medal for India in the Olympics.”

The Indo-Pak war started following Pakistan’s Operation Gibraltar, which was designed to infiltrate forces into Jammu and Kashmir to precipitate an insurgency against Indian rule. Petkar was part of the battalion that fought against the country’s enemies in Kashmir. Reflecting on the horrible events that happened to him during the war, Petkar said, “I was posted in Kashmir when the war began. At one point, there was shooting from both sides. I got shot nine or ten times. One bullet hit my spine, and it is still there. After being shot, I fell below a cliff, and an army tanker ran over me.”

At just 21 years old, Petkar became crippled due to his horrible injuries. The journey of his mental and physical rehabilitation wasn’t easy. Giving some insights on his journey, he said, “I don’t remember much, but when I woke up, I was in a hospital. For two years, I was going through recovery. Initially, I had some memory loss too. Although I was out of danger, I learned that I was forever crippled as my body was paralyzed from the waist down. For recovery purposes, I started swimming, which is how I got into it, and I thought of giving the upcoming Paralympics a try.”

After intense practice and effort, Petkar achieved his dream of winning a gold medal for his beloved country. In the 1968 Summer Paralympics, he participated in table tennis and advanced past the first round. However, he achieved his dream in 1972 when he won the gold medal in the 1972 Summer Paralympics held in Heidelberg, Germany, setting a world record in the 50m freestyle swimming event with a time of 37.33 seconds. Reflecting on this, he said, “When I reached Germany, I wanted to prove everyone wrong. I was not nervous because I thought I could do it. I won the gold medal and also set a world record, which for me is the greatest moment of my life.”

After winning the Paralympics, his life peaked again when he received the Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award, in 2018. His recognition further increased when the biopic “Chandu Champion” was released, making his name known in every nook and corner of the country. Murlikant Petkar credits the majority of the movie’s success to his son, Arjun, and is also grateful to the director and writer of the film, Kabir Khan. Regarding his biopic, he had nothing but praise. He said, “I watched this movie. The actor Kartik has flawlessly portrayed me. I was very emotional after reliving my own life through this movie. The entire team, including the director Kabir Khan and my beloved son Arjun, worked very hard to make this movie what it became. Seeing the movie in theatres, I will never forget that feeling.”

With “Chandu Champion” becoming a success at the box office, people are becoming very fond of the real-life Chandu, Murlikant Petkar. Lastly, for the aspiring athletes of today, he said, “Never give up on whatever sport you are interested in. Once you start progressing toward your dream, nothing should stop you. With dedication and willpower, you can win over the world. Also, whenever you play any sport and aspire to represent your country, the sense of patriotism should never be forgotten. Winning and achieving success for the country requires lots of sacrifices and determination, but in the end, when you win, you will find it all worth it.”

Over his life, Murlikant Petkar has won hundreds of awards. His son Arjun said he lost count of the awards but is sure that they number more than 500. Among them, the most prestigious are the Paralympic gold medal in 1972, the Padma Shri in 2018, and the Shiv Chhatrapati Award in 1975. For more information and a detailed list of major awards, you can visit the site https://murlikantpetkar.com/ which was created and managed by his son, Arjun Murlikant Petkar.