Chup: Revenge Of The Artist
Cast: Sunny Deol, Dulquer Salmaan, Shreya Dhanwanthry, Saranya Ponvannan, Pooja Bhatt
Direction: R. Balki
Rating: ★★ 1/2
Showing in theaters
After making five films, writer-director R. Balki may have finally hit the elusive formula to make his film critic foolproof. His latest film of him, Chup: Revenge Of The Artist, is a thriller about a serial killer who waits for film reviews on Fridays and then, depending on which critic he disagrees with the most, critiques the review and reviewer with an assortment of sharp objects. Taking creative cues from the review itself, the serial killer carves his comments on the critic’s body with bloody flourish.
It’s a clever, fun idea – an original premise, almost, to breathe some life into the done-to-death serial-killer genre.
Chup uses this idea to wax eloquent about the magic and importance of cinema, as well as to pay homage to Guru Dutt.
Chup‘s love for cinema is its strength and the film is at its best when it’s talking about and celebrating cinema. It’s also great fun when it is trashing reviews and reviewers.
Its weakness is the serial-killer plot. As usual, we have to settle for a bad daddy-good mummy explanation.
Chup is set in Mumbai, a city of 300-plus film critics, where one fine day a critic is killed. He’s found dead in that “potty pe baitha nanga“Pose, with a toilet-roll protecting his bachi-khuchi dignity.
Sharp Crime Branch chief Arvind Mathur (Sunny Deol) senses that there’s more to this murder because, he says, the killer took his time to make long, slanting, almost equidistant gashes on the critic’s body after killing him. The inverted, unfinished triangle engraved on the critic’s forehead also intrigues him.
Somewhere nearby is a quaint flower shop that we visit for no apparent reason. It belongs to florist and horticulturist Danny (Dulquer Salmaan) who talks to himself and always has two of everything – two glasses of tea, two plates of anda bhurji.
This duality is never explained, neither by the cop nor by frizzy-haired criminal psychologist Zenobia (Pooja Bhatt). But the instant we meet Danny, we figure the film’s story and hope that the plot will surprise us.
But, there are interesting exchanges about cinema and film criticism, and the ethics of film criticism as well as its malleability. There’s some mild bitching about Bollywood’s trashy directors, more paeans to cinema as lovely old melodies play, including the unforgettable opening notes of “Jane Kya Tune Kahi” (Pyaasa1957).
We also meet some sweet characters played by excellent actors.
There’s entertainment reporter Nila Menon (Shreya Dhanwanthry) who begins visiting the flower shop to buy tulips for her blind mother (played by the lovely Saranya Ponvannan). There’s also, briefly, Amitabh Bachchan the actor who adds some gravitas to the film’s premise by expressing afsos about the dead critics and talking about the importance of film criticism.
Taking forensic cues from Dexter, the serial killer strikes again, on Fridays, after reviews of new films appear. And like most serial killers, this one too leaves his signature on the crime scene: the film’s star rating on a critic’s forehead.
As cops stare at the bodies of dead critics who are now being chopped up in gruesome ways, Nila and Danny become a thing. While they roll about romancing and smooching, Arvind Mathur seeks Zenobia’s help. She talks of a serial killer’s pain and tries to piece together cues from reviews.
As Arvind Mathur comes close to finding out who the serial killer is, something that we have known all along, there’s a predictable back story, a mummy, a daddy and a film that should not have been panned. There’s also a Guru Dutt shrine and kagaz ke phool.
Chup made me quite uneasy, quite often.
R. Balki has directed Chup and he has co-written the film’s script with Rishi Virmani and Raja Sen (film critic and script writer). For a while I kept wondering who would have come up with the idea of killing bad critics and not bad directors – the director or the critic?
Whoever it was, the fact is that Chup‘s story is born out of some serious pomposity.
In Chup, the murders are horrific, and the gashes on dead, naked bodies of critics are deep and long, yet the violence is treated as the work of an artist, an expression that holds meaning. And much like the comments section below a review, each murder is an occasion for a lecture on the art of cinema and the importance of film criticism.
These bits are nicely written and expressed. But they are also conceited and aim to massage the egos of film critics and directors by elevating film criticism to a noble calling, and the director and his craft di lui gently levitating above that.
But Chup is also smart and it found the perfect film to hook its premise and the serial killer’s grouse to. If Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool was panned by critics in 1959, killing critics for bad reviews today doesn’t feel too wrong. Even if it’s by a man who has no real reason or justification to have taken up cudgels on behalf of Guru Dutt.
The film distracts us from this flaw by creating cinematic moments to pay homage to the magic that Guru Dutt and his cinematographer VK Murthy created with light and shadow, but in a lesser climactic scene.
All this author directors ki puja is all very well till Chup shows us, fleetingly, a poster in the house that hosts the Guru Dutt shrine: “Woody Allen is Innocent.” And in this operative part of the title of Rick Worley’s let’s-twist-facts-to-prove-our-point documentary, perhaps, lies the answer to who came up with the idea of killing critics and not directors: Male pomposity.