Saiyami Kher in a still from Choked: Paisa Bolta hai (Netflix India)
  • Release Date: 05/06/2020
  • Cast: Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew, Amruta Subhash, Upendra Limaye
  • Director: Anurag Kashyap

Anurag Kashyap’s step in the right direction falls short of redeeming his stagnating cinematic brilliance

Choked is the latest offering from Anurag Kashyap whose work has been going haywire over the last few years. The man was a genius when he made films like Black Friday, Gulaal, Gangs of Wasseypur, Raman Raghav 2.0, and even the first season of Sacred Games that he co-directed with Vikramaditya Motwane. Sadly ever since he started taking his twitter activism more seriously than his art, he has started dishing out films that don’t even feel like they are from the same visionary director who was always ahead of his time. While Choked is definitely a step in the right direction, it leaves a lot to be desired from a man whom I admired for making films that in so many ways quipped my interest in exploring cinema that was not just about entertainment. He is someone who has repeatedly said that he wants to make films that make the viewers uncomfortable. Regrettably, Choked is not that kind of a film even though it should have been one.

Sarita (Saiyami Kher) works as a cashier in a bank and is married to Sushant (Roshan Mathew) who is broke and without a career in the foreseeable future. The man is not just without a job but also doesn’t put in any effort to make Sarita’s life any easier in the home front. As the film starts, we can sense from Sarita’s expressions that she is almost on the brink of losing her head and breaking down at the sorry state of her life. Through her dialogues with another woman, we learn that she was an aspiring singer who choked on stage during a performance that resulted in her musical career coming to a swift end. Sushant, who was her compatriot, has ever since not done anything for himself in the field even though Sarita made every sacrifice for him to get a toehold in the music industry. Now, she has had enough of being tormented at work, in life, and at home and is about to burst. It is at this critical juncture that one night she finds bundles of notes floating on her kitchen floor. What happens next is what Choked is all about.

Choked should have been a thrilling affair but it is not since so little happens between Sarita finding the money and the climax of the film. the first and foremost issue that I found lingering was regarding how the money was making its way to Sarita’s flat and why was it being dumped in the first place. Dumping old currency notes was understandable. However, soon new 2000 denomination notes start surfacing which was beyond a viable explanation. The demonetization is used as a ploy to forward the proceedings and it is also critical to the overall plot but the problem is with Anurag Kashyap getting busy bashing Narendra Modi and pointing fingers at what an utter failure the demonetization was instead of using it to make his plot more engrossing and adding twists and turns to the story. There were many ways by which the black money hoarders escaped the demonetization but Kashyap doesn’t have patience or penchant to get into them. Instead, he spends time ridiculing the image of Modi, showing unnecessarily exaggerated plights of the people in ques in front of the banks and just bad mouths Modi and the government in whatever way he can. In doing so he guts his protagonist in a situational limbo that, after a while, starts getting on the nerves of the viewers.

Saiyami Kher and Roshan Mathew in a still from Choked: Paisa Bolta hai (Netflix India)

Thankfully, When he is not busy bashing Modi, Kashyap tries to emphasize on painting an affecting picture of Sarita through her interaction with multiple characters like her neighbor, Sharvari Tai (Amruta Subhash), Reddy (Upendra Limaye), a man from whom Sushant has borrowed money and who is now trying to leverage some advantages out of the situation from Sarita and a host of other characters. These sequences are made worthwhile by the stunning performances of the actors in these bits. The problem is none of these aspects are interesting or shocking enough to hold on to our attention for too long and that results in the grip of the film slipping from time to time. There are at least two unnecessary songs that come at a time when you least expect them to. They don’t add anything to the film except piling on the film’s runtime.

On the bright side, it has to be agreed that Choked is wonderfully acted. Saiyami Kher leads from the front as the lower-middle-class housewife who keeps tracks of even Rs 2/- that she owes a vegetable vendor. She is haunted by her past and often dwells into the memory of how she froze in that fateful musical performance that went on to shape her life the way it is today. With demonetization coming in, her work life gets killing because of the huge pressure and that makes her life at home even more chaotic and arduous. The fact that her husband doesn’t even care to keep the house clean so that it means one job less for her, frustrates her terribly. Saiyami looks like someone who is on the brink of a breakdown and she has done a stupendous job bringing to life Sarita in all her deficiencies, pain, and realism. I just loved how well she was de-glammed and turned into a believable lower-middle-class Mumbaikar. Her movements, mannerisms, and even her gait in various situations are well-thought-out and realized to perfection. Saiyami is a fantastic actress and it is only a matter of time before she gets her due in Bollywood that is overrun by pretty faces who have the acting prowess of a honey badger.

Roshan Mathew as her disillusioned husband, Sushant is equally good. One look at him and you take him for the bum that he is essaying. I just loved the ease with which he is able to essay the character. Apparently, he doesn’t feel good about his existence, and yet somehow he is unable to get himself to do anything more than just sit at home and occasionally complain about his sorry existence and how badly he is being treated. He seems to have tried his hands at odd jobs but none of them have worked out for him which has made him even more bitter. Things get interesting when he starts doubting his wife’s character and what he does to get back in her good books. Andrews is successful in getting under the skin of the character and bringing out the nuances of his every emotion and mannerism.

Amruta Subhash in a still from Choked: Paisa Bolta hai (Netflix India)

Amruta Subhash as the cynic neighbor, Sharvari Tai is fantastic. Her character is designed with a strange feel to it. She overreacts to certain situations and then quickly turns normal as if nothing had happened. This might feel odd to many but I enjoyed her character and the interpretation of it by Subhash. As the film reaches its climax her character’s over the top mannerisms reach a crescendo. Upendra Limaye as Reddy is effective. He has played similar characters before and knows how to go about it which helps his cause here.

In the end, Anurag Kashyap brings in all the punches and twists in a flurry which makes the film end on a high note. If only it had been laid out better and certain aspects of it were explained logically, it might have ended up being a much better film. The performances are at its core and they help in diverting our attention from a lot of lingering issues that the film has. The director hasn’t done a good job directing the film. The writer could have solved the inconsistencies, loopholes, and dealt with the questions that are left unanswered in the end. The background score reminded me of Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Birdman and worked well in the context of the film but I don’t think it was strictly speaking original. Choked could have redeemed Anurag Kashyap’s stagnating brilliance but it falls tragically falls short of its mark.

Rating: 3/5 (3 out of 5 Stars)


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