Chup: Revenge of an Artist
Director: R. Balki
Writers: R. Balki, Raja Sen, Rishi Virmani
Cast: Sunny Deol, Dulquer Salmaan, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Pooja Bhatt
Cinematography: Vishal Sinha
Released in theatres
Chup: Revenge of an Artist is a film about a psychopath killing film critics. However bizarre of a plot this may sound, the film is quite profound. Sometimes, to convey a simple thing, you have to exaggerate. Who would know it better than adman-turned feature filmmaker R. Balki? All of his films have a unique plot; ‘The Big Idea’ as they’d call it in the ad world. Balki creates his own meta world in his films. In Paa, Amitabh Bachchan plays the role of Abhishek Bachchan’s son. In Shamitabh Amitabh Bachchan plays a failed artist who gives his voice to a mute actor. Apparently, Bachchan was rejected by All India Radio for the quality of his voice. However disappointing Mission Mangal was, one can’t help but take notice of Balki’s audacity as the writer and creative director of the film.
Chup is a bouquet made with a lot of love and care. The reason why I say that is because a bouquet of flowers plays a significant prop in the film. Also, Chup is an ode to Guru Dutt’s Kaagaz Ke Phool which is an essential part of the film’s narrative. It has its own metaverse going on if you are willing to indulge. Will not give you the spoilers, don’t worry. In a nutshell, three gruesome murders take place in Mumbai. All of the victims are film critics. The serial killer carves out star ratings on the dead critic’s forehead. The number of stars is as many as the critic gave for a film.
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The investigating cop in charge is Arvind Mathur (Sunny Deol). Clever casting that marries stardom and character. When it’s Sunny playing a tough cop, you don’t have to spend time establishing the character. That’s what a star brings to the table. Parallelly, there’s romance ‘blossoming’ between a florist Danny (Dulquer Salmaan), and an entertainment reporter Nila Menon (Shreya Dhanwanthary).
Shreya is natural and sorted in her performance. Her voice compliments her performance too. Mainstream cinema is not known for its clever use of sound. For me, the sound includes an actor’s voice too. Some roles are uplifted because of the quality and texture of an actor’s voice. Take Scarlett Johansson’s voice in Spike Jonze’s Her for instance.
Dulquer Salmaan must be a director’s delight. It’s rare for a ‘hero’ to be choosing the roles that he has been choosing. Not conventional hero archetypes but still heroes. I was blown over by his command of the Hindi language in his Hindi debut Karwaan. If I remember correctly, he played Avinash Shekhawat in that film and he sounded like a Shekhawat – a natively Hindi-speaking guy. In Chup, he plays a Catholic from Bandra, Mumbai. Pooja Bhatt enjoys her time as a psychiatrist in the film. Balki and casting director Shruti Mahajan should get credit for casting for the story. Another rare entity in mainstream cinema.
Also read: R Balki opens up on casting actor Dulquer Salmaan for his coming psychological thriller Chup
If you have watched enough crime thrillers, you’d know how things might turn out in this one too. But you’d still be invested thoroughly in this one. Music helps in that regard. The songs created for the film like Gaya Gaya Gaya have a freshness to them. The song montage is innovative in its moments and shot selection. But the use of Jaane Kya Tune Kahi from Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa takes the cake away. Never knew the song could have such a hauntingly beautiful impact.
Most of the film’s action takes place in Bandra – bungalows, colonies, Mehboob Studio, Goodluck Restaurant, etc. Use of Mehboob Studio is quite symbolic too. It’s a beloved place in Hindi cinema’s history. A place from a bygone era that still holds its place. Most superstars who reside in the Bandra, Khar area still prefer to shoot at Mehboob for their brand commitments or even film songs. I have fond memories of frequenting the studio for shoots when I used to work at an ad agency.
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Vishal Sinha’s stylish yet intimate cinematography creates an immersive experience. It made me see the area of my city that I have visited often through new lenses. The few weak links of the film are the scenes in the second half where the writing becomes a little explanatory. The scene where Sunny takes a little longer to realize who is the real criminal seems stretched only to give the criminal time to smartly execute his plan. The big reveal is not much of a big reveal. Sequences such as the backstory of a criminal are usually rushed with corny dialogue. But Balki gives you an understanding of the character.
In a way, Chup is a lot like Kaagaz Ke Phool. A doorway for someone to explore the artist that this film takes inspiration from – Guru Dutt, whose cinematic genius was discovered only after his death. Kaagaz Ke Phool was ahead of its time. Chup could also follow the suit because of the sheer lack of cinema literacy in the country. And that is not only the audience. Even the makers and reviewers are used to drawing parallels from whatever they’re used to seeing already. Something new will take an enormous amount of courage and time to see the light of the day, let alone be acknowledged or appreciated. Because of this, Chup is essential viewing for all of us, the makers, the critics, and the viewers. It needs to be watched for what it is trying to say rather than merely what’s seen on the screen.