Psychological Crime Thriller
Director: R Balki
Starring: Sunny Deol Dulquer Salmaan Shreya Dhanwanthary Pooja Bhatt
New Delhi: ‘Chup’ starring Sunny Deol, Dulquer Salmaan, Shreya Dhanwanthary, and Pooja Bhatt is a well-cooked thriller. The R Balki film is slightly stretchy, artsy in pace and horror-inducing enough to make any serious film critic think twice before penning down a review.
‘Chup’ has a predictable plot, follows the three-act structure, has the Marquezian whodunit element ( of the killer being introduced from the very beginning and then the backstory of how, what, when) with a Guru Dutt dressing.
‘Chup’ is very well-written in terms of the dialogues. It also has a preachy tone to it, given it is a meta-comment on the process of filmmaking and reviewing; though not so much on filmmaking, and how to do the critiquing right.
The screenplay, however, despite its many layers and coinciding storylines which are attempting to connect all dots, could have been crisper. Then again, with the sprinkling and interlacing of archival footage from ‘Pyaasa’ and ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’, inspiring shots from them, music and lyrics from legends like Sahir Ludhianvi and SD Burman intersected with the modern contemporary scene, is a difficult task. And, to achieve the tonality right by doing all of this could be the reason why the screenplay of ‘Chup’ feels a little overwhelming and confused.
Sunny Deol as investigating officer, of the gruesome killings of film critics by a serial killer who recognizes himself as the ‘critics’ critic’, delivers a well-intentioned performance. A mentionable moment is when he justifies ‘the ridiculous idealism of the youth’ in the name/ passion of all the young people who are in the Army or the police force. It’s like Balki is indirectly and almost intentionally putting those words in an actor like Sunny Deol’s mouth, considering the kind of roles he has done throughout his career.
Likewise, ‘Chup’ is filled with these many passing intelligent, clever references, meta-comment on film, the art of critiquing, the nature of art/artist etc.
For a change, ‘Chup’ also happens to be a film that gives cinema/ film as a medium its due respect and place in society. A clever cameo of Amitabh Bachchan who emphasizes the importance of critiquing any art form or in society in general for it to evolve etc. are all pointers towards this. Infact, the seriousness of ‘film’ is best voiced by Dulquer Salmaan’s character ( Danny, for the most part), who delivers excellent one-liners and the best of fresh dialogue any filmmaker making his next romantic film can learn from.
Lines like: ‘Cinema is art and not a xerox machine’
‘Criticism bhi tab chubta hai jab artist khud unsure hota hai’ etc.
“Kaagaz Ke Phool banane walo ko kaagaz par kalam ghisne walon ne chup kara dia”– as much romantic nostalgia this line by Danny invokes, it is also the crux and heart of ‘Chup’.
In fact, ‘Chup’ feels like an unstable marriage of the artsy kind of cinema which has its own layers, textures, tonality, experiment with form to the commercial kind with its touch of rain, romance, music, and thrills.
From one angle, it also feels like R Balki is redeeming his own film with its material, away from the eyes of the critic, and not because of having audiences view and rate it first but with how the substance of the film underlines the seriousness of a film critic’s job and how proactively it should be done.
What is also commendable is the ample experimentation with the form. The makers of ‘Chup’ use closeups of the serial killer to highlight his sense of gory in a very theater of cruelty-inspired Tarantino fashion ( apologies for the referencing), frame replications inspired from Guru Dutt’s ‘Pyaasa’ and ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’, using archival footage, the interlacing of shots and connecting the two with symbols and signs as opposed to jump cuts, so popular in this genre; all of these deserve a mention.
One interesting moment is when the title card of ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’ plays on the screen as ‘Chup’ opens post-interval, almost signaling a new film within a film. Another meta-narrative comment so cleverly placed…
‘Chup’ uses a background score from the original soundtracks of ‘Jaane Kya Tune Kahi’, ‘Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaaye’… and interlaces it with the modern touch thus safely redeeming it from creating its own kind of original score.
In terms of performances, it would be great if for once filmmakers cast Shreya Dhanwantary in roles other than those of a journalist to give the actor a chance to flesh out more expansively. Having said that, Shreya delivers a good performance.
Dulquer Salmaan is a delight to watch for most parts, however, in some sequences, partly to blame the music and the writing, his character does not land.
Pooja Bhatt as a criminal psychologist, adds the necessary drive to a slow-burn investigation, but her role is nothing more than an ornamental narrative device.
As the film nears its end, R Balki with his assured pace tends to connect the dots and brings all unfinished elements together, in the best show not tell fashion. Danny’s backstory is revealed, and the pun on making a biopic on Gurudutt and his modern-day associate Sebastian interlaced to exploit the Guru Dutt analogy a lot more than it should have been.
A film within a film, ‘Chup’ is reconstructed after the ‘Revenge of the Artist’, a rise of an alter-ego of modern auteur filmmaker who considers Guru Dutt his idol, inspiration and relates to his fate as an artist. The only difference being that while Guru Dutt was so miserably affected by the failure of his last film ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’, that he harmed himself to the extent that it is considered his suicide was the cause of the professional failure of ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’; in ‘Chup’, the antagonist manages to quieten all critics ( literally, by killing them) and winning as an artist.
Interestingly, as the film comes to a close, we see a resurrection of ‘Chup’, the film made by the serial killer, with the help of critics and Danny/Sebastian never coming to know of it. He languors in prison happily celebrating the demise of a film critic to COVID-19 calling him ‘so sensitive’.
This image of Danny is inspired by the last song of ‘Pyaasa’- Ye Duniya Agar Mil Bhi Jaye recreating the success-when-not-needed idea yet at the same time the banality of overexploiting the iconography of one of the most memorable cinematic viewing experiences to justify the madness of a serial killer. Like I said earlier, the unsteady marriage of pulp fiction and high-brow art is what sums up ‘Chup’.