Chup: Revenge of the Artist should have ironed out basic flaws

Shreya Dhanwanthary and Dulquer Salmaan in Chup. Photo: R. Balki

You have got to hand it to R. Balki. The ex ad-filmmaker is probably (correct me if I am wrong!) the only director who has been consistently trying out not just varied subjects (Cheeni Kum, Ki & Ka, Pad-Man) but even genre-defying films like Paa, Shamitabh and now this movie, with immense conviction and confidence. Even as a co-writer, his work includes Mission Mangal, and he has also produced English/Vinglish.

Not all have been equally successful, or from a critic’s point of view (relevant here as we are discussing a filmmaker versus critic story!), equally impressive. So where does Chup figure in this space?

Balki, while signing actress Shreya Dhanwanthary (who plays a film journalist) told her that it is a psychological romantic thriller, and he is right. So let us see these aspects.

The psychological and thriller elements come in with the tag-line itself: Revenge of the Artist. The inspiration for this highly original premise comes from legendary filmmaker-actor Guru Dutt. A series of film critics are ruthlessly, gruesomely murdered. Top cop Arvind Mathur (Sunny Deol) investigates along with assistant Srini (Rajeev Ravindranathan). There is no clue, except for the commonalities that the victims are critics and there are stars (like those given in film review ratings!) carved out in blood on their foreheads.

The romance is between Danny, a florist (Dulquer Salmaan) and Nila, the film scribe played by Shreya. No, she is not a critic, yet. But her life is in danger the moment she writes her first review. And yes, the love story is beautifully unraveled.

Chup works best as an investigative thriller. The way the cops get there despite nothing to fall back on, aided by the usual chunks of luck, make for a crackling drama with some cliffhanger, tension-packed moments. Mental exercise, psychological guidance by an ‘expert’ named Zenobia (Pooja Bhatt) and the final denouement of ‘Why?’ are all unraveled in the climax. Of course, we suspect who the culprit is way before interval (as we are probably meant to, thanks to subtle clues!) and that is confirmed by interval point!

And coming to the climax, we have a crisp (too crisp, I thought!) end to the villain, but a long-drawn and not-very-convincing post-climax of why and how he became one. The man has been a filmmaker whose maiden movie (inexplicably shot in black and white not too long back, as per his age shown in 2022!) was ripped by critics, and reflected his own dark life. What’s more, nothing more is known about how the film fared, who financed it, and the other nitty-gritty of filmmaking.

No explanation is forthcoming also of how the killer reaches his targeted victims, or how he devises and executes their murders so rapidly, easily and conveniently. The scriptwriters here (one of whom is an ex-film critic who had turned director some years back) should have fleshed that out convincingly rather than—as shown here!—conveniently!

The best of Hindi whodunits and ‘whydunits’ have always placed everything on a comprehensive, logical platter (from Kanoon and Ittefaq to Dhund and all the way to Gupt, Johnny Gaddaar, Badlapur, AndhaDhun and Ludo among some off-the-cuff assorted ones), not taking anything for granted, and sans loopholes like these. At best, the Chup template seems to be modeled on foreign thrillers that makes us forget logic for basic tempo and thrills, and yet go the noir, atmospheric way!

Also, it is never specified to the audience that Kaagaz Ke Phool, the 1959 Guru Dutt classic that was criticized then, and is not just Balki’s but also (within the film) the killer’s inspiration, was only Guru Dutt’s last official tryst with direction. It was not, in that sense, truly the cause of his death (even his suicide theory has been debunked by family members for some valid reasons).

Guru was depressed by not one but many factors, including his estrangement with wife Geeta Dutt, but he still produced and acted in the hit Chaudhvin Ka Chand (1960) and the success Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962). This last film, if associates are to be believed, was at least partly directed by him as well.

And surprisingly, Guru’s career as a leading man in the early 1960s was going great guns with hit films and some prize assignments besides a new (and first color) production and (planned) directorial, Baharen Phir Bhi Aayengi. In the interest of authenticity, the writers should have mentioned the crucial truths even if the mentally-wrecked killer here was showing going about his hate agenda based on Kaagaz Ke Phool as well as his own story!

The predilection towards noir cinema is also seen in the dark-hued cinematography (Vishal Sinha—brilliant work though!) and the editing pattern (Nayan H. K. Bhadra). A special mention must be made of the imaginative, if S.D. Burman-inspired background music score by Aman Pant, which Balki seems to have literally curated with brilliant imaginativeness.  The (original) songs are unimpressive, except for the use of the classics from Kaagaz Ke Phool and Pyaasa. A word is also indicated about the cerebral sets (Sandeep Sharad Ravade is the production designer) mixed with real locations: this is expertly done.

As a film, Chup is Dulquer Salmaan’s and Sunny Deol’s film all the way. Dulquer’s face is a kaleidoscope of emotions—pleasure, passion, anger, pain, obsession, and his character has a fascinating graph that could have been explained slowly rather than in a rush at the end. After Sita Ramam, this is his second ace this year.

Sunny Deol is wonderful, as he always is when given a role different from his normal yet competently-enacted ferocious characters. He is incredibly in sync with his character of a cop who seems gentle, but has lethal perceptive abilities and also a latent anger within him against criminals.

Shreya fits wonderfully into her character of Nila, the ambitious film journalist who ends up confused and helpless. She is excellent when shown in a near-paranoid condition in the pre-climax. Saranya Ponvannan as her feisty and humorous mom is a magnificent find for Hindi cinema. Pooja Bhatt in the short role of Zenobia shows that she has not lost her fire, which is merely tempered and in sync with her age. Rajeev Ravindranathan is effective as Sunny’s assistant.

Had Balki paid attention to some details and filled in the lacunae, Chup would have been a sheer piece of art in crime cinema. What we get is all heart instead—the filmmaker glosses over some necessary details in narration and ends up with a tale that can be watched only as an emotionally imaginative interpretation of what was an excitingly original concept.

Rating: ***

Hope Productions & Pen Studios presents Chup: Revenge of the Artist  Produced by: Gauri Shinde, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, Anil Naidu & Jayantilal Gada  Directed by: R. Balki  Written by: R. Balki, Raja Sen & Rishi Virmani  Music: S.D. Burman, Amit Trivedi & Sneha Khanwalkar Starring: Sunny Deol, Pooja Bhatt, Dulquer Salmaaan, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Saranya Ponvannan, Rajeev Ravindranathan Pyarali Nayani, Sp. App.: Amitabh Bachchan




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here