What would you do if you found wads of cash floating in your kitchen drain one day?
It’s a fantastical, crazy and terrifying scenario to be presented with. Anurag Kashyap takes this premise and lays bare the complexities of our relationship with money in an intelligent, thought-provoking manner in his new feature film, Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai.
The Netflix-backed film stars Saiyami Kher (of Mirzya fame) and Malayalam actor Roshan Mathew.
Set in the context of the 2016 demonetisation, Choked tells the story of Sarita Pillai (Kher), a bank teller with a long-sacrificed dream of making it big as a singer that routinely haunts her. She lives with her unemployed, negligent husband, Sushant (Mathew), and eight-year-old son in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment in Mumbai. Sarita’s small, despondent life is turned on its head when one night, she finds wads of carefully packaged cash gushing out from underneath her leaking kitchen sink. Will this money be the answer to all her prayers or a curse she never anticipated?
Anurag Kashyap’s signature style never overshadows the writing
The film centres around Sarita, a strong female lead that is fleshed out well by writer Nihit Bhave. Her life mirrors that of middle-class India — eyes full of aspirations but a mouth that needs feeding and hands that desperately grasp at the smallest rays of hope in order to survive.
Sarita’s relationship with Sushant is a crucial part of the narrative, as the already strained bond is hit with the tricky problem of money. She is the only earning member of the family, which fosters resentment and bitterness in her relationship with Sushant, who seems so paralysed by his failures that he has essentially resigned himself to being unsupportive.
Kher and Mathew do a stellar job in bringing out the hopelessness and desperation of a relationship built on love but bogged down with hurt feelings, shame and resentment.
Mathew tells ThePrint that getting into character was easy given the strong writing and direction. “There was very little prep needed for the role of Sushant because the script made his character arch very clear. Plus, I was very comfortable working with Saiyami — I really enjoyed fighting with her.”
The star of the film, though, is the writing. This is Bhave’s debut as screenwriter, and it is a launch most would envy. The writing, while shadowing Kashyap’s patented darkly irony-heavy narrative style, is distinct. Despite all the obstacles the characters face and their grey shades, you find yourself rooting for the real protagonist of the film — the average Indian.
Demonetisation shook India to its very core, with the middle-class and underprivileged bearing the brunt of a shock announcement that upturned their lives. Kashyap does what he does best with scenarios like these. He masterfully brings out the reaction of the people, the country, in all its absurdity and glory, using strong metaphors and imagery.
For instance, the moment demonetisation is announced, while some like Sarita and her neighbour are disconcerted, the rest of the inhabitants of the building, including Sushant, burst into dance, celebrating the anticipated end of corruption and black money. While Sarita walks into her bank, bracing herself for a tough day, she sees mile-long lines of people waiting to get their cash exchanged, while some on the other side of the road go about their business, seemingly unaffected.
But Kashyap’s typically heavy style doesn’t overshadow the main story — a feat he credits to Bhave.
Speaking to ThePrint about the long journey the film took into realisation, the director explains that he became part of the writing process at a much later stage. “My process has always been to rewrite the script once it’s submitted to me, but this time I had Nihit with me every step of the way as well. I only got involved in the writing process a year after the story was pitched and finalised,” he says.
Kashyap reveals that the original story, pitched to him in 2016, wasn’t really about demonetisation, but was actually meant to be more fantastical and less political. But thanks to some delays in casting and production, the script and the story were transformed into the film we see today.
While watching a film on the big screen is something we all have to wait for now, Choked is definitely worth a watch and a subscription to Netflix. In Kashyap’s words, “I have found my home in Netflix, I think, as it has given me the respect and dignity my crew and my work deserve.” OTT platforms are the future, but as Choked goes to prove, the future is now.