Just as I sit down to write, I can hear crickets chirping deep in the trees outside. Thanks to R. Balki’s Chup, this sound has forever been etched in my memory as the indication of a gruesome murder of a film critic. Each crime’s modus operandi is different, depending on how ‘creatively’ the critics expressed their views. I guess I am fortunate that the critics are only being punished in Balki’s fictional world.
Chup: Revenge of the Artist is Balki’s sixth directorial since his debut in 2007 with Cheeni Kum. Keeping the commercial success of his filmography aside, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that he has always managed to bring forth interesting, diverse, and thought-provoking cinematic flavours. Be it transforming the legendary Amitabh Bachchan into a child suffering from a genetic disorder in Paa (2009), or having a mainstream superstar like Akshay Kumar talk about menstruation in Pad Man (2018). But from the looks of it, his latest film Chup proves to be the weakest ingredient on his cinematic plate.
Are you a movie critic?
Filmmakers and critics have a symbiotic relationship. One might trash the other, but their existence is dependent on the work of the other. Balki’s Chup is a story about an artist-turned-psychopath on a rampage to take revenge — which he sees as his moral obligation to bring a reformative change — against critics, who, according to him, are not being ‘responsible’ enough. Each murder is an anomaly. The killer targets one ‘dishonest’ critic each week after a film release and maims them just the way they described the film in their review. For instance, one critic wrote (in his review for a fictional film Third Umpire), “…the heart is in the right place but everything else is scattered all over….” The killer picks a cricket field for his crime scene and dissects the critic’s body in such a way that only his heart remains inside his pericardial and abdominal cavity. The rest of his organs lay bare at different fielding points on the cricket ground. By the end of each murder, the killer imprints the star rating on the body’s forehead.
A senior Mumbai police officer (Sunny Deol) is tasked with finding the killer. Along the way, he seeks help from a psychotherapist (Pooja Bhatt) and a young entertainment journalist Nila (Shreya Dhanwanthary), who is aspiring to become a film critic. Parallelly, Nila shares a budding romantic relationship with a local florist Danny (Dulquer Salmaan). Without giving too much away (although one can read between the lines), the plot gradually transforms into a cat and mouse game. The screenplay, peppered with clever wordplay and a tribute to veteran film director Guru Dutt, rarely moves beyond superficiality. It is entertaining at intervals, but the cosmetic dialogues and frail acting lowers the film’s entertainment quotient.
A cult film in the making?
Despite a half-baked character, Dulquer Salmaan is everything — vulnerable, charming, menacing — he is tasked with. I am yet to see a Hindi film (of his) that could do justice to his talent, case in point being his flourishing Malayalam filmography. Dhanwanthary, who has acted in several films and series on OTT as a supporting cast, brings her A-game playing a central character in Chup. As for Deol and Bhatt, the less I say the better. Their characters and performances in this film are mostly forgettable.
The film is interspersed with references to Dutt’s last film Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), before he tragically died in 1964, often depicting a character’s love for cinema or driving the plot of this crime thriller forward. The classic film, which was shunned by the critics at the time of its release, has found an afterlife among cinephiles now. Whether Chup will repeat history or not is hard to say, but for now, it whispers, often screams too, but largely remains silent.
Views are personal.