Actor Sushant Singh Rajput, who was found dead at his Mumbai home on Sunday, was keen on bringing the heroics of Murlikant Petkar, India’s first Paralympic gold medallist, to the big screen. To understand Petkar and his achievements, Sushant had visited Pimpri-Chinchwad twice and even met the family at his home in Mumbai.
Murlikant Petkar had won the gold medal at the 1972 Summer Paralympics held at Heidelberg in Germany.
On Sunday, when news of the actor’s death broke, Petkar was taking an afternoon nap. “When we woke him up and told him about Sushant’s death, my father couldn’t believe it. He has hardly said anything since. Our entire family is shaken; it feels like one of our own family members has made an early exit,” said Arjun Petkar, his son.
The Petkars live in Ganesh Colony area of Thergaon at Pimpri-Chinchwad.
“My father had set a world record in the 50-m freestyle swimming event, at 37.33 seconds,” said Arjun, adding that his father had sustained irreversible bullet injuries in the 1965 war against Pakistan.
“My father was a jawan in the Indian Army. He sustained bullet injuries, which forced him to give up his career. Though hampered by injury, my father took to sports as a specially-abled athlete and made his mark,” said Arjun.
Arjun also said his father was a boxer in the Corps of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers in Secunderabad, but took to swimming, table tennis, athletics, javelin throw, precision javelin throw and slalom. “In his book on specially-abled athletes, former Indian cricket captain Rahul Dravid has highlighted my father’s achievements,” he said.
According to Arjun, Sushant was filled with awe when he heard of these achievements and said he would like to play the role of Murlikant Petkar in a biopic. “This was about three to four years ago, when he was working on his role to play cricketer M S Dhoni,” Arjun said.
“When he heard that my father was in a coma for one-and-a-half years after he suffered bullet injuries to the chest, spine and leg, Sushant said he was amazed by the courage, patience and patriotism displayed by my father,” he said.
Sushant and the Petkar family met twice in Pimpri-Chinchwad and twice at the actor’s Mumbai flat. “…We also chatted outside whenever Sushant was free from his hectic film schedule. He repeatedly met my father as he wanted to understand even the minutest detail of his personal life, war-time heroics and achievements on the sports field. Sushant said he had read up the details of his achievements but wanted to hear everything from him. He said it will help him get under the skin of the character.”
Arjun said his family was excited at the keen interest Sushant had shown. “We were taken aback when he landed up at our residence, accompanied by a friend. He had called us to tell us that he wanted to meet my father… but we never thought it would happen… he spent nearly an hour at our residence, looked closely at my father’s medals and sought to know everything in detail. Since he had come in the morning, we offered him poha that he ate it with relish,” he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Petkar said, “When my family woke me up, I could not believe what they were showing on TV. How can such a down-to-earth human being, with no trace of arrogance, die so young? I was completely shattered.”
Recalling their first meeting, Petkar said, “Sushant told me that he had read the book, Courage Beyond Compare, written about me and other athletes. Sushant said he was inspired by my life and had come to understand my life.
He said my life has to be captured on celluloid for future generations. He asked me several questions about the war and how I suffered the injuries, and then how I won the medal and the kind of preparations I made for the field,” Murlikant said.
The actor’s second visit to Thergaon was in August last year. “… It was only when he left after chatting with my father that we informed our neighbours. Sushant thanked us for keeping his visit secret. He said he can’t move around without being mobbed by fans and can’t have time of his own,” Arjun said.
Petkar said after his visit to their home in Pimpri-Chinchwad, the actor had invited them to lunch at his residence. “He sent a special vehicle from Mumbai to fetch us. He felicitated me and spoke about me in front of his friends. I have not forgotten a single moment spent with him,” he said.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines