When a 17-year-old Sumit Arora came to Mumbai, little did he know that a few years later, his first love—writing— would make him the man behind some of the iconic dialogues spoken by Shah Rukh Khan (Jawan), Rajkummar Rao (Stree), and Manoj Bajpayee (The Family Man). During lockdown, Arora reunited with filmmaker Kabir Khan (83) for another gripping biopic on India’s first Paralympic gold medalist Murlikant Petkar. But unlike Kapil Dev’s fame, Petkar’s was a story that did not have a face, which was a challenge for the makers. But it was a story that left him ‘blown away’ and was ‘important to tell’. And so happened Chandu Champion.

Screenwriter Sumit Arora.

In an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times, screenwriter Sumit Arora discusses the challenges of adapting a real-life person’s incredible journey on the screen, his reunion with Kabir Khan, and working with Kartik Aaryan.Also Read | Shah Rukh Khan reacts to Sumit Arora’s ‘Baap se baat kar’ poster

Chandu Champion

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Arora has previously brought essence and life into fictional characters with his hard-hitting dialogues. But working on a biopic is a challenging task. Talking about the challenges as a writer, he opined, “Unlike a fictional character, where the boundaries are being set by you, the writer or the director, in a real-life adaptation, the boundaries are already laid out by the person who has lived that life.”

While this is his second biopic after 83, Chandu Champion had its challenges. “With Kapil Dev, you know how the person talks, walks and behaves. But for Chandu Champion, he was hardly in the public eye. So, it was challenging for me and Kabir Khan. So it gives you the freedom to depict him the way you want to, but you still have to follow a certain path as the person on whom you are making the film will be watching it with you. And we watched it with him (Petkar). And you have to be mindful that he does not feel like this person is not him in that moment. They have completely masalafied my life story. So you have to maintain that boundary and keep the sentiments of the real person and their family in your head while working on a biopic.”

On his second collaboration with Kabir Khan

Arora met Khan during the screening of Stree in 2017, a film that won the writer multiple accolades and praise. Impressed by his work, Khan expressed his desire to work with the dialogue writer. “He told me that we should work on something, but I thought he just said it for the sake of it and would forget about it, you know how it is at these functions.” But a few days later, Arora received a call from the filmmaker himself.

“He eventually called me and told me he was making 83 and asked me to work on the dialogues. I was more than happy as I had always been a huge cricket fan. Then 83 happened, and we worked together. Then we were thinking of what to do next, and he told me the story of Murlikant Petkar. I was blown away.” Talking about Khan, he further added, “He is a lovely person and a great filmmaker and an amazing soul to work with.”

‘Kartik Aaryan was hungry for this role’

It was Kartik Aaryan who brought Arora’s words to life on the big screen. In a never-before-seen avatar, the actor portrayed the titular role of the gold medalist. Talking about the same, Arora adds, “Working with him was an amazing experience. He has never done a role like this. People associate him with someone who does comedy but he stepped into an unchartered territoty. I think he was really hungry for this role and wanted to do something different. He has proved himself beyond doubt and delivered a performance of a lifetime through this film.”

On experimenting with genres

From the small screen to the silver screen, Arora has distinguished himself as an acclaimed writer. At a time when screenwriters and dialogue writers remain unheard, Arora has established himself in the industry and worked with the likes of Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti (Dahaad), Raj & DK (Guns & Gulaabs, The Family Man), and Atlee (Jawan). The variety in his work can be clearly distinguished, a challenge he loves to take on as an artist. “It’s really fun for me because I get bored very easily. It is my need as an artist personally to experiment. Many people prefer doing one thing, but I look forward to doing many things at a time. As a kid, I was always like that; I’d get bored doing just one thing. So, for me, every new project has to be completely different from the last. I should not know what I will do next as it challenges me as an artist.”

While Arora has proved his mettle in the industry, he still believes there is a long way to go until writers get their due credit and respect in the current cinematic landscape. “We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. But we are on the right track, looking at the progress over the last few years.”

Well, for Arora, the writer in him is unstoppable. He has a series of projects in the pipeline, including Varun Dhawan’s Baby John, Raj & DK’s The Family Man 3, and Citadel’s Hindi remake. His ‘bucket list’ also includes working with SS Rajamouli and Mani Ratnam, among others, and writing a romance film, a genre he has yet to tap into. Having delivered some iconic dialogues in today’s cinema, one can hope he gets there soon.

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