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Chup movie review: The mix of menace and romance starts and stays uneasy

Full marks to the originality of the Chup Revenge of the Artist’s story: there’s a serial killer on the loose in Mumbai, whose target is film critics. Oooh, shiver me timbers. It’s the kind of thought which I’m sure must have come to so many filmmakers not just in the Bay, but in film-making centers around the world, basically wherever the creators of cinema feel done against by callous critics being stingy with their stars , and generous with their criticism.

One after the other, Mumbai Police led by Inspector Arvind Mathur (Sunny Deol) finds brutally murdered bodies, and gets down to looking for the perpetrator who seems to have an insatiable appetite for blood. Meanwhile, a love story is unfolding between scruffily good-looking florist Danny (Dulquer Salmaan) and newbie journalist Nila (Shreya Dhanwantry), who is tired of her entertainment beat — yeh stars kya khaate hain, kya pehente hain — and is dying to become a film critic.

Chup movie trailer:

Well, not dying exactly, pardon me, because that’s what the petrified bunch of Mumbai critics do not want. Of course not. Who wants to risk their lives for a review? As the body count rises, a psychologist (Pooja Bhatt) is summoned. Declaring that most serial killers are male, she promptly discovers a pattern, and the hunt is on.

The trouble with Chup (yikes, am I actually saying this) is that while I smiled at the outlandishness of the plot, it was not as successful in making me suspend my disbelief: the characters seem out of a fantasy, set in the bylanes of Bollywood-drenched Bandra, and if that were the intention, this one needed more heft. The best fantasies have to be grounded, and this conceit never feels weighty enough.

At one point, the back-and-forth-cuts between the murders and the swoony lovers are too staccato. You want the film to breathe, which it does when the twosome is tripping the light fantastic: the thing between Danny and Nila (clever name for a movie-mad girl, meaning moon in Tamil), is winsome. The writing credits are split between R Balki, Rishi Virmani and film critic Raja Sen, and you immediately want to know from the latter: Freudian much?

You wish there were more of these bits, when ‘Chup’ feels like a love letter to the movies, and to Mumbai: the reverential references to Guru Dutt and his films, especially ‘Kaagaz Ke Phool’, which was trashed by the critics, and is now considered a classic, counterpoints the killer’s hatred for this bunch. But then it goes right back to the toothless blood and gore, the intrigue dissipates; smart viewers will spot the killer soon enough.

Good to see Sunny Deol back in the movies; Bhatt’s cameo is fun. Dulquer Salmaan is nicely loosey-goosey, and Dhanwantry is lovely: she’s played a journalist before, in ‘Scam 92,’ but here she makes her Nila different, armed with a light-on-her-feet-mum (Ponnavanan). But the mix of menace and romance starts and stays uneasy, and ultimately makes the film, about dream-makers and those who destroy those dreams, less satisfactory than it should have been. Am I supposed to take this seriously, or laugh it off? Ultimately, it comes down to this: do you really believe that film critics have the power to kill movies? Especially in this digital day and age, when everyone is a critic, not just professional ones? It’s also true that good films always find their audience, but do bad movies deserve to die unsung? Towards the end, a character says: a film works because of word-of-mouth, not critics, and that straightaway undercuts the film’s premise. If indeed critics these days have less influence than doltish trolls, why take the trouble to go after them in the first place?

There, I’ve said it: will I still be alive tomorrow?

Chup movie cast: Sunny Deol, Dulquer Salmaan, Shreya Dhanwantry, Pooja Bhatt, Saranya Ponnavanan
Chup movie director: R Balki
Chup movie rating: 2 stars

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