It’s a trippy, wild premise. A new kind of serial killer is in town who, as we are told, “star dene waalon ko star de raha hai". A puzzled investigating officer asks, “Ek film critic ko kaun maarega yaar”. In R Balki’s latest movie Chup, his love for cinema, Amitabh Bachchan, Guru Dutt and film criticism come together as a crime thriller where critics are being critiqued.
You know how there are films you watch and know exactly what you feel about them. This isn’t one of those. Feelings are being felt, things are still being processed because it is for the first time yours truly has seen so many film critics together on screen.
Critics are the focus, and so it makes perfect sense to have former film critic Raja Sen as one of the writers along with Balki and Rishi Virmani.
I was amused to see two characters discuss press show timings during a funeral. That’s new. Or witness the madness of filing reviews and giving stars. What’s not new though is people being upset about it. The protagonist Danny (Dulquer Salmaan) vehemently believes that it is the critics who crushed Guru Dutt’s spirit after they judged Kaagaz Ke Phool harshly. So he sets out to right the wrongs and take revenge.
But is there a “right” way to feel about a film or any work of art? And who decides that? Also, do critics really have so much power to determine the destiny of an artist or their masterpiece? If that's the case, then what explains the box office success of films that are collectively panned by reviewers? Or the gems that go unnoticed even after they earn rave reviews.
Chup is mostly quiet on the art and process of film criticism. There is, of course, Amitabh Bachchan explaining how “cinema needs unbiased voices to flourish”. Sounds even better in Hindi when he says “Aalochak ki avashyakta hai”.
Chup speaks through its beautiful frames. Vishal Sinha’s camera glides as the colour palette and lighting drench the screen in the lilting poetic pathos and loneliness of Guru Dutt’s world. The sound design, with that signature click from 'Jane Kya Tune Kahi' (Pyaasa) composed by SD Burman or the songs from Kaagaz Ke Phool form an enigmatic tapestry as we try and understand the inner workings of the killer's twisted mind.
The murder scenes are graphic and tough to watch. But it's even more difficult to hear Pooja Bhatt tell us why she thought the killer would be a man, and simultaneously body-shame our perfectly innocent victim.
Dulquer and Shreya Dhanwanthary share such effortless chemistry that it’s easy to fully surrender to their fuzzy, filmy romance. Dulquer has a dark and sinister side too, which he showcases with aplomb. Shreya is authentic and radiant, and even when the plot contrivances become too much to handle the camera is on her and things seem in control.
However, there are many other characters Chup focuses on and the proceedings become wobbly. One is never quite sure of the tone the film is trying to adopt. Is it a satire or a dark comedy critiquing a world that can't take criticism? Or is it serious about sermonizing to critics about how to do their job?
Not to be missed is Sunny Deol as the investigating officer who, fed up of his own restrained performance, screams “BASTARD” and takes a giant leap of faith metaphorically and literally to catch the killer. For this critic Chup remains an interesting, intriguing idea that couldn’t quite execute what it ambitiously set out to achieve .
Our rating: 2.5 Quints out of 5