The strained relationship between artists and critics is as old as cinema itself. Artists claim that they create. Therefore, they are superior to reviews, which are generally negative about anything they consume. And since critics only consume instead of create something substantial, their opinions are not valid. Critics argue that art can’t thrive if they don’t talk about it, and that the medium can’t evolve if the only thing an artist gets is praise. And since critics are the ones who often champion indie darlings and passion projects that audiences will typically skip because they weren’t marketed properly, their opinion matters. But both agree on one thing: it’s the audience that makes or breaks a film. They can shoot a well-made, well-reviewed movie, and they can turn a poorly-crafted, horribly-reviewed dumpster fire into a smash hit. “Chup: Revenge of the Artist” tries to wrestle with all aspects of this relationship.
Directed and co-written by R. Balki, with co-writers Raja Sen (who is a professional film critic, BTW) and Rishi Virmani, “Chup: Revenge of the Artist” opens with the murder of a critic of cinema in Mumbai. Crime branch boss Arvind Mathur (Sunny Deol) and his partner Srini Shetty (Rajeev Ravindranathan) are brought in to investigate the case. Along with this, a man apparently named Danny (Dulquer Salmaan) is seen going about his business as a florist, doing “bhurji pau” and talking to himself. The character that connects these two storylines is entertainment journalist Nila Menon (Shreya Dhanwanthary). Due to the nature of her work, she inhabits the same circles as critics who get murdered by a serial killer. Due to her mother’s (Saranya Ponvannan) love for tulips, she becomes a frequent customer at Danny’s shop. And as the murder count mounts, the bond between Nila and Danny grows stronger, with neither of them aware that they will eventually find themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum of humanity.
When the trailers for “Chup: Revenge of the Artist” or simply “Chup” were released, the general consensus was that it was going to be a hit against critics. Artists love to hate them for the aforementioned reasons. Audiences love to hate them because when critics don’t praise their favorite movies or love their favorite stars as much as they do, they don’t get the validation they need. And, if I can be honest, a lot of movie critics writing for independent websites (like the one you’re on right now) love to hate critics working for multi-million dollar corporations and getting paid to write absolute waste. The surprising thing about this R. Balki film is that it’s not really a hate letter to the critics (which is more surprising than the revelation of the killer and his motives). In fact, it’s a hate letter to everyone from abandoned artists to abusive fans and those without a fundamental understanding of the film world for intentionally or inadvertently ruining the art form.
Balki, Sen and Virmani understand that we have a bad habit of generalizing people in all professions and thus creating a false image of them in our mind. Filmmakers make movies that touch hundreds of thousands of people and influence them in various ways. But does that make them impervious to political, societal or studio pressure? No. Despite being backed by millions, they have sunk to various lows. Critics criticize films and their articles are read by almost everyone who has watched the film they are writing about. But are they powerful enough to make or break cinema? No. Because if so, every critical darling has to be a hit, and every poorly-reviewed movie has to be a flop. “Chup” says we need to understand the reality of this dynamic. We need to have a discussion based on the material of the film and the points raised by those who criticize it. If you resort to deifying artists (and critics) or abusing critics (and artists), then you are the one hurting cinema.
This nuanced commentary is both enhanced by the dark comedy and marred by the romantic subplot, all the gripping and hasty handling of the subject of psychopathy. “Chup” is absolutely hilarious when it focuses on its slasher aspect. The murders are incredibly creative. Balki makes maximum use of the freedom that comes with the A rating. As a result, the mutilated bodies are on full display. The blood and guts almost overflow the frame. The special effects and visual effects are impeccable as you can smell the dirt and smell of each of the crime scenes. And the laughs come from the idea that someone went to town on people reviewing movies. The absurdity of this concept is reinforced by the urgency with which different levels of security are assigned to detractors in danger. Because this is where we realize that Balki is aware that there is nothing realistic in this plot. He knows something like this will probably never happen, and he shows how stupid it’s going to look if someone gets violent in the movies.
Vishal Sinha’s cinematography is competent, as is the overall production design of “Chup.” Nayan HK Bhadra’s edit has its ups and downs. There’s a cut from the serial killer enjoying the crime scene he created at night to Arvind Mathur examining the same during the day. And that’s perfect. But then Bhadra’s editing becomes unnecessarily frantic during the investigation scenes as well as the conversation scenes. Aman Pant’s score and songs by Amit Trivedi and Sneha Khanwalkar are overwhelming and forgettable respectively. Only SD Burman tunes seem to fit. The performances of the entire cast are excellent. Dulquer Salmaan gets the meatiest character. However, he does not treat it lightly. He puts so much life into it and so lights up the screen every time he’s on it. Shreya Dhanwanthary is efficient and effortless. She depicts love, passion and panic with such breathtaking ease. Sunny Deol knocks it out of the park as a grizzled cop, all brawn but not too brainy. I think the movie needed more of him!
This brings us to the “Chup” issues. As good as Dulquer and Shreya are, their romance has no chemistry. He interrupts the rhythm of the film. And since what’s going to happen between them is so predictable, all that effort seems pointless. Maybe a better alternative would have been to develop their characters separately and then move on to the conclusion? Because their romance doesn’t really impact the killer’s plan. Even if that’s the case, we don’t spend enough time in this moment of dilemma. As for the killer’s motives, and while I like what Balki, Sen and Virmani are (probably) trying to say, the movie spends more time on the killer’s misplaced emotions and less time on why the killer is wrong. For a brief moment, the killer is seen being asked to rethink the reasoning behind his murder, which, in a way, asks the artists to criticize the product they have made instead of getting angry at those who criticize him. But it’s so fleeting that the killer’s bad-faith take on the movie review ends up getting more screen time.
The reason this happens is because ‘Chup’ spends too much time explaining the killer’s backstory and explaining why he does what he does through so many exposures instead of dissecting why his whole mission is so bad. We know he’s a “psychopath” laughing after learning that a reviewer died of COVID-19. We don’t need the cliché story of an abusive childhood because it doesn’t add anything to the story. Why do I know this? Because Zenobia (Pooja Bhatt) is essentially saying his abusive childhood didn’t make him a killer, the review of Guru Dutt’s “Kaagaz Ke Phool” did. You can tell she talks about how he wrongly attributed the reason for Dutt’s death to the bad review of “Kaagaz Ke Phool” and echoed it when his own movie (also called ” Chup”) was criticized. But it’s not very clear. What’s also unclear is whether the killer film was actually good and poorly reviewed or if he took the reviews too personally because the film was about his life. For your information, a movie doesn’t have to be good just because the directors care about it. These feelings have to be conveyed cinematically, otherwise what’s the point?
That said, do you know what is the most problematic element of “Chup: Revenge of the Artist”? This is not gratuitous violence. This is not the convoluted message about cinema, artists, critics and the general public. It’s the poster from Nila’s house that says “Woody Allen is innocent”. Yes, Woody Allen, the director who was accused by his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, of sexually assaulting her when she was seven. Woody Allen has been accused of having an intimate relationship with another of Mia Farrow’s adopted daughters, Soon-Yi Previn, someone he later married. This Woody Allen. Now I don’t know if this is a statement by R. Balki or one of his authors. Or if it’s a way of showing that movie critics tend to defend abusers just because they love their work, thus ruining the sanctity of cinema. I hope it’s the latter because if it’s the former, “Chup” deserves zero stars.
Until we get some clarification on this poster, though, I’ll say “Chup” is definitely worth a look. Is it completely original? I do not think so. Edgar Wright directed “Hot Fuzz” in 2007, where the Neighborhood Watch Alliance in the small town of Sandford killed reporters who were telling the truth about the town while making spelling mistakes in their stories, police officers who were criticizing murderous tendencies in the city, or children who have done graffiti. In this way, they maintained the town’s rustic aesthetic and continued to win the “Village of the Year” award without realizing how fascist they were about something that should be so simple. Still, R. Balki’s twist with a fascist film “savior” at its center is interesting, to say the least. When it works, it will make you laugh. When it doesn’t, it will make you stare at the screen. The acting is fantastic, with Dulquer Salmaan clearly taking the cake. And, in the weirdest way possible, the film is a reminder of the greatness of Guru Dutt. So, after you’re done watching “Chup”, maybe go watch his movies, starting with “Kaagaz Ke Phool”.
“Chup: Revenge of the Artist” is a 2022 drama-thriller film directed by R. Balki.