Writer-director R. Balki has a knack for finding intriguing premises and dressing them with technical flourishes and sharp observations on society and its hypocrisies. But, usually, after an engrossing build-up, his customised vehicles get stuck in the gear of self-awareness. Chup is no different.
It is not a surprise that Kagaz Ke Phool, one of the brightest examples of self-reflection in world cinema, serves the plot of his crime thriller. With Guru Dutt’s classic — which was panned by critics of the time — as the reference point, Chup, on the surface is about a psychopath maiming film critics for giving inappropriate ratings to films.
But at the core, the three writers of the film, one of whom is a noted movie critic Raja Sen, project the killer as a kind of self-appointed vigilante who is out there to save cinema from mediocrity and impose the tyranny of taste. However, curiously, the film doesn’t question the rating system itself. It doesn’t ask whether art should be quantified or understood within a time frame. Kagaz Ke Phool was crushed by the critics of the time, but it survived and found a new life because it was written about by another set of critics who focussed more on its craft than its content. In any democracy, mediocrity and excellence coexist. Cleansing one for the interest of others is no way to progress; the fun lies in the subjectivity of the art.
To make the indie idea palatable for a larger audience, Balki advertises Amitabh Bachchan in a cameo to educate us that critics are crucial for the growth of the art form, and that a ‘hit film’ doesn’t necessarily be a ‘good film’. To make things meta and massy at the same time, he has cast Sunny Deol — who usually gets short shrift from critics — as the police officer on the trail of the critic of critics. Then there is Pooja Bhatt, whose father has made self-referential cinema, as a criminal psychologist to read the mind of the killer on the prowl.
But even as we chew on the interesting details of crime and casting, romance is blooming in the Christian neighbourhood of Bandra, where a reticent florist Danny (Dulquer Salmaan) finds his voice after a perky entertainment journalist Nila Menon (Shreya Dhanwanthary) walks into his life.
Supported by stimulating cinematography, rousing music, and witty conversations, the two generate some electric moments with Jaane Kya Tune Kahi, an unusual S.D. Burman composition from Pyaasa, providing a lilting background. The unmistakable signature sound of Chinese temple blocks stirs something inside every time it is played.
A natural performer, Shreya Dhanwanthary has cracked the role of a journalist. This is her third role as a scribe with a conscience, but this time she gets a romantic track and has a more robust character arc. Together with seasoned south Indian actor Saranya Ponvannan (as Nila’s outspoken mother), Dulquer and Shreya make the middle overs engrossing. Dulquer is winsome as a lover who loves to talk to himself, but as the film progresses to the business end, he is let down by the script.
With no red herrings to tackle, Chup is less of a whodunit and rather makes us wait for the motivation behind the gruesome murders. When the backstory doesn’t match the punishment meted out to critics, the climax is reduced to a charade. When the primary conceit doesn’t hold, the smart wordplay and topical observations start feeling superficial. The connection between the action on-screen and the director’s harangue on criticism no longer remains organic, and the film peters out without a punch. Overall, Chup has its moments, but falls short of zipping up the critics!
Chup! is currently running in theatres