Attention Please, Chup And The ‘Psycho’logy Of Artists

I’ve been having a dream run at the movies lately. The last 5 films I’ve watched – Vendhu Thanindhadhu Kaadu, Thallumaala, Attention Please, Chup and Ponniyin Selvan (in that order) were all memorable. However, the two films that surprised me the most were the ones that I wasn’t hyped for: I watched both Chup and Attention Please without knowing much about them (nope, not even the trailers) and the fact that I was going into these films without any pre-colouration whatsoever, really worked for me. And what fascinated me most about both the films, that were released back to back (Attention Please on Netflix, and Chup in theatres) was that they are both set in an eerily similar zone, thematically.

Here’s a one-liner for both films:

Attention Please: During a drinking session with his flatmates, an aspiring filmmaker begins to narrate stories that he has written. As the night progresses, the stories get darker – and so do the proceedings, courtesy Mr Aspiring Film-Maker. 

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Attention Please, Chup And The 'Psycho'logy Of Artists

Chup: A once-filmmaker whose debut was panned by critics and audiences alike, goes on a rampage – by ruthlessly killing critics who do a bad job at reviewing films. 

Attention Please, Chup And The 'Psycho'logy Of Artists

(Spoilers ahead. If you’re looking to watch either of these films, halt right there. If you’re so-so about including them in your watchlist, go ahead. The specific points lead to a broader discussion which may interest you.) 

Now, apart from the similarity that both titles can be used to shut the listener up, and another obvious commonality – the presence of the ‘filmmaker protagonist’ – these films also have another overlap: they both succeed in capturing the unexplored, dreary, dark side of creativity. 

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Creativity, or art in general, has traditionally been spoken of in a divine, positive light – as something that gives joy, something that revitalizes you and (in some cases) makes you think and feel. And as a result, creative people are also perceived to be people with great intelligence and emotional depth; people who selflessly devote their time to creating works of art that would stand the test of time; people for whom the biggest return of working on art, is the art itself. But are artists all that noble? 

What if art is not the final goal, but only a means to an end? What if it is just a medium for artists to achieve a larger purpose? And what happens to the artist if the larger purpose isn’t ultimately achieved? 

In Attention Please, the protagonist Hari (played by an intense Vishnu Govindan) has been ill-treated since childhood – based on the film facts, he may have had to endure various cruel acts of caste-based discrimination. And because he was creative, he may have thought that being a filmmaker who could entertain with powerful stories, could be a means to achieve more acceptance in society and be perceived as competent. And when he does not get the said acceptance – rather, continues to get ridiculed – despite trying his best, he begins to fumble; and with the progress of time, he eventually descends into madness. 

In Chup, however, the characterisation is more vivid. Sebastian (DQ trying his hands at a very un-DQ role) is gravely affected when his father kills Danny, and this incident was the one that most probably triggered the psychopath in him. The merciless way in which he leaves his father to die (retaliation max), is a testament to this fact. And by this time, he also develops an alter ego and starts talking to himself. He then makes a film centred on the trauma that he had to endure in his own life. So, for him, the film was more than just a work of art – it was about moving the world with a personal story, one which he thought deserved to be heard. Alas, the film becomes a flop, and Sebastian begins to think that it was not the film, but the story of his life that was panned by the world. And so, he also begins to progressively descend into madness. 

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Attention Please, Chup And The 'Psycho'logy Of Artists

I consider myself an enthusiastic part-time content creator, so I pitched the same question to myself: Why exactly do I do what I do at Pinklungi? 

If someone asked me this question in an interview, I’d probably say that I’m someone who’s bursting with ideas, I love to share my thoughts with the world and learn from the conversations that follow…yada yada.. Bullshit. 

I like social validation. And I feel the feeling of being productive. I was dumb at engineering, and I was lazing around most of the time. To resurrect my broken self-esteem, I had to resort to an avenue that men of science couldn’t authoritatively criticise: Creativity. Writing thus became my calling card to get noticed and also to feel productive in life. Now, I can recall many instances where posts I’ve created for PL have got violent backlash. I also recall feeling spiteful, angry, sad and exhausted (in that order) when I came across scathing comments on my post. I’d be spending hours thinking of that perfect punchline, and some dude would comment “Ashayadaridriyam” and my now-invalidated spirits would fall. And despite having had a fun brainstorming sesh ideating the post, I would label the day unproductive. Art, as a means, would have failed me and I’d be sad. Not psychopathic… just sad. How come? 

I think this is where obsession plays a part. The more crucial an end goal is to an artist, the more obsessed they might feel about their art. And the more obsessed they feel about their work, the more affected they’re going to be with the end result too. Both Chup and Attention Please have artists who were highly obsessed with their work. I’m only partially dependent on writing for my end goals, and hence, am definitely not as fixated on the results of my creative work. Phew. 

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In conclusion, I’d like to say that if you are a creative person, beware of yourself. LOL, just kidding: I’d rather say, be aware of what motivates you to create the art that you do, and have a healthy relationship with your Art – do not let the results of it overtly affect you. Also, have multiple means to the end that you consider most valuable – that way, you hedge the risk of your Art failing you. 

Oh, you thought this was going to be a review? Nah. In my (very concise) opinion, both films are technically brilliant and deserve a watch. And also deserve lots of follow-up conversations. Feel free to engage in the comments! 

(P.S: Also, if anyone is aware of any interesting research work that has been done on the psychology of creative individuals, please do share the link in the comments below. Thanks in advance!)

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Navaneethakrishnan Unnikrishnan
When I'm not working or sleeping, I'm mostly observing people and making notes on my phone for content. (Hope to be) Your go-to man for laughs, good music and useless trivia around movies.

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