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National Award-winning Indian director Kabir Khan recognised that Bollywood actor Kartik Aaryan was celebrated for his fabulous hair and his crowd-pleasing monologues in glossy romantic dramas.

However, for his upcoming film ‘Chandu Champion,’ out in UAE cinemas this Eid, Khan imagined him doing something radically different.

“I told him: you are famous for your hair, I’m going to need you to cut it. You are famous for your monologues, but your silences will speak louder than your monologues in this film. Also, you will have to go through unimaginable pain to transform your body,” Khan revealed in an interview with Gulf News. Additionally, Khan required Aaryan — who typically juggles three films a year — to dedicate 18 months exclusively to this single project.

Chandu Champion
Kartik Aaryan in 'Chandu Champion'

Aaryan didn’t hesitate and was game for all his director’s demands. In a separate interview, the 33-year-old talent remembers how their 15-minute casual chat resulted in him being a part of a career-defining film. In ‘Chandu Champion,’ Kartik brings to life the spirited story of India’s first Paralympic gold medallist, Muralikant Petkar.

“This is that rare opportunity that you get in your life and in your career — that lifetime chance to play this kind of a character … I would go to any level to actually portray this character well … For instance, for my earlier film ‘Freddy,’ I was ready to gain weight but in this one, I had to lose a lot of weight and body fat,” said Aaryan in an interview in Dubai.

Both were in the UAE to promote their film and showcase parts of their film’s trailer on the Burj Khalifa earlier this week.

Kartik Aaryan's top tips to become lean and mean:

Kartik Aaryan's transformation in 'Chandu Champion' where he had to get shredded. In the image on the left side, he had just finished his film 'Freddy' which required him to gain weight. The ripped image is the result of training, strict diet, and lifestyle changes over 18 months

For the actor, who is known for playing far less intense roles in benign comedies like ‘Bhool Bhulaiyaa 2’ and ‘Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety,’ it meant “shifting gears.”

“For this role, I needed to have 12 or 13 per cent of body fat. I started with 39 per cent body fat, and I was much bigger since my film ‘Freddy’ required me to gain a lot of weight … I had to lose a lot of weight and set aside one-and-a-half years to reach that goal. I didn’t have a social life … I was just going home, or in my gym, or in my swimming pool,” said Aaryan. His director Khan had “hand-picked” a raft of accomplished trainers, swimming and boxing coaches to help him achieve that goal. His diet was equally rigorous.

“I had very little carbs or next to no carbs itself. My diet was more fibre and salads. My routine dal, roti, sabzi [lentil curry, flatbread, and vegetable stir fry] were all eliminated from my life. I had this one soup in the night, and that soup was eaten for more than a year … There was no cheat meal on my birthday, Diwali, or Eid,” said Aaryan. He famously lost 18 kilos for this movie. He was 90kgs as he embarked on the tough regime and whittled down to 72 kgs by the end of his long training schedule. 

He also joked that he had a zero social life, which meant that his dating life had also ground to a halt. Learning how to lead a disciplined life also came with the package. Before ‘Chandu Champion’, Aaryan was a night owl and just needed a couple of hours of sleep to function the next day. But preparing for this role taught him the importance of sleeping by 10pm and waking up early.

“It was the most difficult time of my life because I was not eating a lot … I had to be physically and mentally fit in every way possible … And it was bizarre when I began to enjoy the process. The change in my lifestyle where I broke this pattern of sleeping late began showing, and I felt good,” said Aaryan. He adopted a blinkers-on approach during those months of his life. And to all those wondering, the actor claims he achieved an impressive seven per cent body fat and overshot everyone’s expectations of that 12/13 per cent body fat target.

Both Aaryan and director Khan describe ‘Chandu Champion’ as a movie that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit.

“It’s a biopic on Muralikant Petkar, and the sad reality is that none of us know about his story … It’s such a wonderful story of a man whose life needs to be celebrated globally … Here’s a man who refused to surrender to any of the obstacles or hurdles in his life … It’s not just a sports biopic; it’s so much more than that,” said Aaryan.

This actor also belongs to the rarefied bracket of actors who make it on their own steam without the help of powerful relatives or parents who are in the entertainment industry. He’s the poster child for the anti-nepo kid brigade. So, how does he look back on his own journey that was carved without much help from industry insiders?

As an actor, I am never content. The reality is that if you feel content with your job as an actor, you will never race again. I never get attached to a hit film of mine because if I do, I can never join that race and make another hit … I don’t attach myself to success or failure.

- Kartik Aaryan

“Sometimes, I do pat my back and sometimes I feel that I am not on an even playing field. Certain kinds of opportunities are served on a plate to many and are denied to some … Having said that, I feel all the more proud about making my own name on my own steam. There’s nobody else helping you out. All you have is your gut feeling with your characters. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s all my choice, and I am the only one who’s to blame,” said Aaryan.

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‘Chandu Champion’ is out in UAE cinemas on June 14.