Choked is Anurag Kashyap bringing his trademark styles into more relatable scenarios. The normal Kashyap fans might be disappointed that there are no bodies falling here, gaalis thrown around, or with the auteur hardly going into the dark gritty side of things that he is usually known to indulge in.
But that does not mean you do not see Kashyap at all in his latest Netflix exclusive.
Fine example is this fabulous scene where the couple is fighting over who said what as they wind down for the day. The husband and wife decide to let their respective ego take over the situation, with both not willing to back down on their version of the ‘truth’. And in between the two is their young son who is having a sound sleep. So, it starts off on that note, with the two whispering not wanting to wake up the kid.
But not for long. Because soon, the parents decide that it is best to drag their sleeping child into this tussle. And they keep arguing, whispers now turned to full blown shouting, and amidst all this a child that keeps screaming that he wants to go back to sleep!
This scene is Kashyap at his best, except now he is exploring it in a relatable middle-class family setting. New territories for the maker, but fresher perspectives for the audience. This time it is a middle-class Marathi residential area where their lives are closely interwoven.
And that is what Kashyap ventures into – part thriller, part satire territory. Choked, is Anurag Kashyap’s exploration into a bad marriage and an equally troublesome drainage, political or otherwise.
Written by Nihit Bhave, the film introduces us to the lives of a regular middle class lady Sarita (Saiyami Kher) who is the breadwinner to her family. Her husband Sushant (Roshan Mathews) is a musician who struggles to stick onto any job and spends his days almost doing nothing. She literally must slog it out and it does take the toll on the relationship. While Sarita she struggles out to make the ends meet, all her slacker husband welcomes her is with “why do we still have potatoes for dinner?”
Sarita, we find also dealing simultaneously with a trauma of a past event. One where the aspiring talent in her finds her wings of desire clipped thanks to a choke up at a talent show audition. The incident still haunts her to this day.
However, it all changes with the arrival of an unexpected night guest. Bundles of cash, rolled up and packed up, pops out of the clogged kitchen pipes much to the surprise of Sarita. She seems to have struck jackpot when the money keeps coming and she thankfully accepts them as a solution to the problems of her life. But she does not go on any spending spree. She uses it wisely and sparsely, saving up most of it for later.
Little does she know Modiji has other plans for her!
This is also where the structural shift happens. Kashyap brings the demonetisation into the mix and the movie halts down to make a social commentary on the ordinary lives and the immediate effects of the landmark decision on them. The woman who was too busy struggling to make a life to be bothered with politics until then, advises an aged customer at the bank much later that she should be seeking help and answers to all the troubles from the people who were voted into power.
You can’t help but laugh at the situation on how the demonetisation decision is received. On one hand, the husband, jobless and always shrugging his responsibilities at home, applaud the great leadership and the decision and the foresight of how the rich and corrupt will be affected oblivious to the faces of horror from his wife and neighbor whose lives and plans are crumbling down overnight.
The whole thing is structured right from the word go as a thriller, drawing you immediately into the narrative.
Kashyap uses music wonderfully to ramp up the scenes. It starts off adventurously with the ‘The Mark of Torro’ orchestral piece promising us an intriguing ride as we see the money being hidden intricately. This is followed with more jazzy percussion from Karsh Kale giving the sequences a distinct feel. Not much scope for songs , except for the chaos of the demonetisation set against a Nucleya-Benny Dayal tamil dance track ‘Nerungi’ and a ‘Achhe Din’ observation set to nursery rhymes in the track “500-1000”.
However, keeping the shift from thriller to social satire going on, Kashyap is unable to finally wrap it up with a convincing finale. For the free-wheeling, money dealing story fails to come with a fitting pay-off. It plays out more as one of convenience and makes the earlier issues we dealt with until then all seem irrelevant. Even the whole ‘Reddy’ angle all fails to contribute much to the final outcome.
So yes, as much as one has reasons to have some disappointments with the finale, there is still a lot this movie has going for it. Like the screenplay and the acting that keeps you firmly engaged with the proceedings. And also some fine work by cinematographer Sylvester Fonseca with the framing of the tight interiors.
Saiyami Kher holds the fort with a wonderful performance in the lead role of Sarita. She embodies the character and sells it well. Roshan Mathews, making his Hindi debut, does a decent job given the character that he was handed out to play. But the real scene stealer here is Amruta Subhash who hits it out of the park with her portrayal of the neighbor. Rajshri Deshpande chips in with a short role.
On a side note, it is surprising that it took until now for a movie to talk about demonetisation on celluloid in Bollywood. While other regional industries were bold enough to comment, joke or deal with this issue from 2016, big brother Bollywood has only finally managed to even acknowledge the event. Thankfully, Kashyap is restrained and does not hijack the story to make it a propaganda film and is happy with the sly jabs every now and then. But still again, it goes about to show how filmmakers are ‘choked’ into putting out their voices more freely out there.
As far as the film is concerned, Choked is more a film that deals with the strangles more than merely the struggles. It talks about the strangles money has on relationships, the strangles the government has on the lives of ordinary people, the strangles the corrupt few have on the general majority as the money flows from the top to the lower levels. Unfortunately, no plumber is going to fix the issue. Neither will eating mushrooms. Unless of course, your idea of a leader is…Super Mario!
Cast: Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathews, Amruta Subhash
Directed by Anurag Kashyap
Music score by Karsh Kale
Streaming now on NETFLIX