'Chup' review: A mix of good performance, sketchy portrayal of film journalists and a murder mystery

What works to the film’s advantage is that the actors are comfortable in their skin. Deol and Bhatt seem to be taking it easy and enjoying the fun. Dhanwanthary and Salman are all charm and charisma

Photo: Twitter/@thatfilmymonk
Photo: Twitter/@thatfilmymonk

Namrata Joshi

Chup: Revenge of the Artist, R. Balki’s latest outing, works on an ingenious idea: a serial killer targeting critics with contrarian views on films. However, the two elements that it stands on don’t quite mesh and meld well together. On the one hand are the murders themselves, on the other is the accompanying unceasing commentary on creation and its critique, the uneasy relationship between the creator and the critic which is the provocation for the killing spree in the first place. While the act of killing keeps one conventionally engaged with the blood and gore and a suspect you’d identify minutes into the film, the latter feels too done over, stilted, and glib. From the hat tip to 110 years of Indian cinema to the 80 years of Bachchan. From Bachchan’s admission of respect for the critics and the assertion that fearless, unbiased criticism is essential for evolution of the society to the defense of the sensitive artiste, the film is not able to make up its mind and take a stand on either. Not that taking a stand is essential, but the tonal fluctuations make the narrative feel unwieldy. Then the very basis of the film gets challenged when a character asserts that ratings and reviews can’t make or break a film. Why go to the extreme and chase us then with a knife, gun, dagger or whatever? What’s the hullabaloo all about?

Sunny Deol is Arvind Mathur, Mumbai’s top cop, in charge of the critics’ killer case, aided by a giddy assistant and an ineffective boss who keeps threatening about CBI taking over the probe. When nothing seems to yield any result, Arvind decides to deploy criminal psychologist Zenobia Shroff (Pooja Bhatt) and soon enough all begins to fall in place. Why couldn’t she have been brought in right at the start of the investigation?

Parallel to the killings is the flowering romance between an entertainment journalist Nila Menon (Shreya Dhanwanthary) and florist Danny (Dulquer Salman) that one knows, at the very start, is somehow entwined with the main plot but remains aligned in a rather ungainly fashion all through the film. What the viewer does get by way of the budding chemistry of the couple is a round of Bandra—Mount Mary, Good Luck, Patel and Mehboob—where the two appear to reside and frolic. And yes, all is good about this Bandra except for the rents.

What is not good is the portrayal of the media. The world of critics and film journalism remains sketchy, one-dimensional, and pandering to the superficiality, presumptions and stereotypes than reaching out with veracity or any specifics.

The film doffs its hat to Guru Dutt (with the songs Jaane kya tune kahi and Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai, the cricket sound and the poet as Christ image from Pyaasa) who could not earn the due recognition for his most significant film in his lifetime, Kaagaz Ke Phool. Much sentimentality accompanies the prolonged explanation and validation of the artiste-killer and saviour of cinema someone who is up to date on the knowledge of even Mongolian cinema. But it still doesn’t reach out, impress or create any sense of empathy. Most so because, like any other psychopathic killer film, Chup also ultimately seeks inspiration in Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic Norman Bates (than Guru Dutt’s poet-filmmaker) with the double dose of tea, pav and film tickets and seats panning out nicely through the film.

What works to the film’s advantage is that the actors are comfortable in their skin. Deol and Bhatt seem to be taking it easy and enjoying the fun. Dhanwanthary and Salman are all charm and charisma. Wish her cracking relationship with her blind mother (Saranya Povannan) was better fleshed out. It surely left me asking for more.

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