Chup (2022), directed by R Balki, is an unusual crime thriller wherein a serial killer is on a mission to kill a film critic every week on the basis of his/her reviews and ratings for that week’s released film. Though the premise of the film seems original and engaging, the translating of the idea from story to script to screen is a big letdown. What might have been a great and perceptive watch ends up as yet another forgetful entertainer.
Like with every other film on serial killings, Chup also begins with the discovery of the gruesome killing of a film critic. Inspector Arvind Mathur (Sunny Deol), Head of Crime Branch, Mumbai, is put in charge of the case. However, week after week, the murders of film critics continue with their dismembered bodies found in various locations of the city. Pressure mounts on the police department from the higher ups to solve the case as soon as possible or else it would be handed over to the CBI. Mathur seeks the help of his criminal psychologist friend, Zenobia (Pooja Bhatt), to help him catch the killer. She deduces that the serial killer is extremely selective and does not choose his victim randomly. There are two conditions for choosing his victim. First, the review of a film has to have some substance and secondly, the critic should be without bias. Meanwhile, there is a love story blooming between a young entertainment journalist, Nila Menon (Shreya Dhanwanthary,) and a florist, Danny (Dulquer Salmaan). The film explores how the paths of all these characters cross each other and play a role in solving the murder mystery.
Typically, moments of suspense, curiosity and edge-of-the-seat moments of discomfort keep the viewers’ attention glued to the screen while watching a film on serial killing. But the makers of Chup provide us with some haphazardly arranged quick-paced snippets of murder in the disguise of involvement. The graphic and gory visuals of butchered bodies do not alone contribute to making it a riveting or even disturbing thriller. One murder follows another with such pace that it hardly raises our curiosity about the investigative procedure. Even the romantic rendezvous between Nila and Danny, at the latter’s shop, lacks imagination and appears more as an unwanted distraction. But most importantly, when a filmmaker is dealing with an important topic such as the relationship between filmmaking and film criticism, one expects that there should be a certain level of thought provoking discourse to engage the viewers within the film’s narrative. Instead, a token scene is introduced midway into the film wherein Amitabh Bachchan makes a cameo as himself and in an interview before the release of one of his films, declares that though box office matters, film criticism is necessary for the growth of a filmmaker and the industry. Sadly, Balki does not bother to carry forward such mindful conversations despite having a film critic (Raja Sen) as one of his team of writers. The wafer-thin plot is far more interested in hurtling towards a rushed finale that is contrived with a much-too-convenient climax. More disturbingly, Mathur and Zenobia, after watching the only film made by the serial killer, which was autobiographical and received unfavourable reviews, actually justify the action of the murderer linking it superficially to his abused childhood. What was the filmmaker thinking?
The biggest downer of the film is the childish homage paid to Guru Dutt and to his last film as a director, Kagaaz Ke Phool (1959). For instance, Danny makes a bouquet of flowers made with paper for Nila on Dutt’s birthday. In another scene, he gives his jacket to Nila and there is an immediate intercut of a similar scene between Dutt and Waheeda Rehman from Kaagaz Ke Phool. A classic song like Jaane Kya Tune Kahi from Dutt’s masterpiece, Pyaasa (1957), has been used so many times that it loses its significance.
It is disheartening to observe that the writers haven’t even fleshed out the primary characters well enough and hence, all of them appear to be skeletal and incomplete. Sunny Deol tries to give an understated performance, restraining his signature shouting style of yesteryear but remains ineffective. Pooja Bhatt appears more like a fashion magazine editor than a criminal psychologist and is unable to do much with her role. Shreya Dhanwanthary brings some youthfulness and zest to her role as an entertainment journalist while Dulquer Salmaan, despite having control and displaying sincerity in his role as a lonely shopkeeper, seems wasted in a thankless role. Ultimately, it’s only South Indian actress Saranya Ponvannan in her Hindi film debut as Nila’s blind mother, who brings comic relief and some delight to the film.
Vishal Sinha’s creative choices of lighting and framing draw us psychologically into the dark and gritty milieu of the film with ease. Sinha also balances the tender-hearted scenes between Nila and Danny with vibrant and moody colour palettes, satisfactorily creating a sharp contrast between the two worlds the film inhabits. Due to the weak script and weaker storytelling, editor Nayan HK Bhadra struggles with the choppy flow and is unable to maintain an even balance in the tempo, pace and rhythm of the film. The background score by Sneha Khanwalkar creates a brooding mood in places but is unable to lift the film. The playback songs composed by Amit Trivedi are surprisingly quite forgettable.
Chup proves yet again that merely having a great concept does not necessarily translate into a good film. It needs to have an engaging story, a sharp and perceptive screenplay, well-rounded characters and a fine use of the cinematic language. Chup fails on all these counts.
Hindi, Thriller, Color and Black & White