I expected Chup Chup Ke (Secretly) to royally suck. There, I said it. Despite my Shahid fangirl achievements (he is the Official Paisa Vasool--Or Not Mascot, and revels in that status no matter what his publicist tells you) I don't consider myself blind to all things bad about my Hero No. 1. In fact, he has only one big hit under his belt as far as I can tell, which means that every role leading up to that hit probably just served to mark time till Imtiaz Ali came along.
And I was right. Chup Chup Ke does kinda suck. But it does so in a mostly harmless fashion, so it's not "beat-your-head-against-the-wall" suck or "give me back my money" suck (although had I had the opportunity to see it in a theater they would've known my wrath)--just a "geez, that could've been better" suck. And my fangirliness will give that a pass, although I don't expect non-residents of the ShahidPyaarFest Loony Bin to agree.
Here's the set-up: Jeetu (Shahid) is a village-level shmuck engaged to Pooja (Sushma Reddy, who gets the most out of her role in the totally pointless opening song). He had a lot of big ideas and now is left with a lot of debt. He tries to commit suicide so his father (Anupam Kher!) can collect the insurance money from his death and pay off the lenders. (He takes care to tell the many witnesses to say it was an accident so the policy will pay.) Instead of dying, Jeetu gets caught in fisherman Bandya's net (Rajpal Yadav, also known as That Guy With The Gun-Shaped Lighter in Kal Ho Na Ho) and fools everyone into thinking he's deaf. (Apparently he's convinced that being deaf also involves being more than a little intellectually deficient. If I were a deaf person, this might prove to be offensive. But I'm not so I can't speak with certainty.)
Bandya's--friend? Or maybe brother? Some guy, anyway, named Gundya (Paresh Rawal) decides to basically indenture Jeetu and Bandya to Prabhat Singh Chauhan (Om Puri!) in exchange for money Gundya owes Prabhat. Hilarity involving shirtless young studly men and language mix-ups between Gujarati and Hindi ensues. Almost all of it escaped me and I was left sneering at the screen, daring the movie to disappoint someone with no expectations.
Finally we get to meet Shruti (Kareena Kapoor! yay!) who is mute but not deaf. She has a close relationship with her brother Mangal (Suniel Shetty! double yay!) and her cousin Meenakshi (Neha Dhupia), but not so much with her uncle Prabhat. There's some sort of difficulty getting her married, I guess because of her disability, and there's a permanent wedding tent set up in the garden, but I wasn't really paying attention to that subplot.
Then Jeetu gets drunk, thinks to himself, "I haven't heard my own voice in a month! I long to hear my own voice!" aaaaand bursts forth in Sonu Nigam's voice instead. This was my cue to burst into laughter that may or may not have been intentionally baited. While he's singing, Jeetu gets busted by Shruti and Meenakshi. More hilarity and misunderstandings ensue...
And suddenly, during the second half, I actually started liking this movie. Despite a way too slow execution and way too much slapstick humor and way too much hamming (Rajpal has what would've been the Johnny Lever role just six years ago) something about Shruti's and Jeetu's story, once it actually started, got me smiling. It helped, too, that Suniel and Kareena have a very convincing brother-sister vibe going on; they were super-sweet together and I found myself thinking "Awwww, cute!" more than once. In fact, this was the most stereotypically Bollywood Bollywood movie I've seen in a long time: broad acting, long set-up, tons of narrative bunny-trails and good music that comes out of nowhere. That might explain half my fondness for it.
Another thing I liked was the visual pallette: the movie has a series of white-on-white sets and clothes, with intermittent bursts of color and dancing that made me happy in a very Bollywood way. Two of the musical numbers, "Ghoomar" and "Aaya Re," made the most of that set-up, and perhaps it's no coincidence that they also ended up being my favorite songs. I got to see Shahid dance a lot, which always makes me very happy of course.
It was kind of funny, because I expected either for Shruti to be singing in fantasy settings only or for her never to express her feelings via song--but then it wouldn't be a Hindi movie! In fact, the way the film-makers did it was to have Meenakshmi "sing" the female vocals for her cousin with the understanding that she was expressing Shruti's feelings. It was an odd approach but I guess it worked okay. And Neha Dhupia actually had my favorite performance in the film, as nuanced as something this broad can be; I want to see if I can find more films with her. Anyone have recommendations?
So, in the end I'd call Chup Chup Ke neither a total loss nor a total win; instead, with judicious use of the FF button it's a preferable alternative to yet another reality show whose ending you just know is more scripted than any Hindi film's. And it does have a few really fun songs. And Shahiiiiiid! Shahiiiiiid! If all else fails you can mute the sound and freeze-frame on him!
The Official Mascot says, "Puh-lease, you know any movie I'm in is worth watching."