Director: Ashutosh Pathak
Cast: Arjun Radhakrishnan, Anuritta K. Jha, Aakash Prabhakar, Kartik Krishnan
These days, when we begin to watch a film about a solitary, confused, idealistic, quasi-angsty protagonist, our minds do funny things. But the last thing we anticipate is an actual ‘sad’ funniness – the intellectual equivalent of watching a hyperactive martial artist destroyed with one thump by an angry uncle.
Thanks to decades of exposure to a tried-and-tested cinema genre, we’re conditioned to expect certain tonal templates instead – even within what is essentially an unpredictable, volatile mind-space. Even darkness comes with a tag. We expect a downward-spiraling graph, a slow, visually trippy descent into oblivion. An explosion of intent, or blinding madness, perhaps. In this context, Sikhya Entertainment’s Shut Up serves as an anti-genre character portrait: a mild “protest” against its own posturing. Just when you think it’s taking itself too seriously, or taking too long to come to the point – much like its lead – it stops trying and ends, deliberately, with a skit-like whimper.
One keeps bracing for impact, given the nature of its ‘hero’ Arjun (Arjun Radhakrishnan) – an aimless, armchair, protest-loving urban activist, the kind of chap perpetually at the losing end of humour and sensible debates
One keeps bracing for impact, given the nature of its ‘hero’ Arjun (Arjun Radhakrishnan) – an aimless, armchair, protest-loving urban activist, the kind of chap perpetually at the losing end of humour and sensible debates. He wants to be hot headed, but really isn’t, seeking more of an image than an ideology. He looks like the guy who embraces the vagaries of social media while he’s in between jobs, until this desire to fix something – anything – becomes his only job. And miraculously, he has a wife (Anuritta Jha) – that is, an immensely patient human who endearingly tolerates him as if he were an unruly, lost puppy looking for food.
The problem – or actually, I’m not sure it’s much of a problem – with this film is its anticlimactic pragmatism. It comes at the cost of driving home a traditionally hard-hitting message. As timely as it may seem, the film is merely a comment on today’s self-defeating reactions to intolerance – but a comment with a smirk, not an almighty, chest-beating cry for arms.
As I mentioned, Arjun’s flimsiness as a rebel serves as a reminder that perhaps this isn’t the kind of ‘twisted’ saga we’ve grown to love and be jolted by. That he inadvertently becomes the ignorant joker when in company of real perspective (his Muslim friend) tells us a little more about his seasonal-outrage ways. In fact, he barely seems like a husband, what with his boyish, gap-year mentality and slacker gait. Even when he gets into a heated argument, he sounds woefully inadequate, which is evident from the way his wife’s family members look at him. The way her brother-in-law (a scene-stealing Kartik Krishnan) taunts him with the infallible temperament of a Versova-based sly tweeter.
As timely as it may seem, the film is merely a comment on today’s self-defeating reactions to intolerance – but a comment with a smirk, not an almighty, chest-beating cry for arms
The ‘in-laws’ atmosphere tends to be silently outlaw-ish and thorny enough for an Indian male, but couple that with their layered “gaze,” their polite lack of respect for your thinking – even if you know your thinking is ridiculously soulless – is enough to emasculate even the most emasculated of them all. Arjun embodies this unwinnable conflict, even though they are probably accustomed to treating him specially, as per the flakiness of his many phases.
Despite its length, I liked the wry observational nods to our culture of constructed togetherness. On an Indian dinner table, discussing spices is an age-old defense mechanism designed less to detract from awkwardness and more as an absurd show of intimacy and ‘homeliness’. After all, recipes are family heirlooms, and food the only tangible religion; even wannabe warriors might want to replenish their senses with mutton biryani before embarking upon their ‘faceless’ battle against a beef ban.
Watch Shut Up here: