Choked | Anurag Kashyap, Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew | Netflix India

In this film – a pipe, a marriage, a woman’s voice,her life, a society, a country. Anurag Kashyap rolls political critiqueinto a suspense drama about a middle-class woman who discovers thata pipe in her kitchen is spewing cash. It’s exactly the miracleher cash-strapped family needs, but then Prime Minister Modi announces demonetization and everything goes haywire. Choked is about the intersectionof the personal and the political. Where the film and its makers standon the PM and on demonetization is made clear from the start. In an early scene, Sushant and Sarita,a once-loving couple, whose marriage is souringin front of our eyes, are watching television. We don’t see what they are seeing, but we can hearsomeone extolling the virtues of eating mushrooms, because THAT is the secret of thePM’s vitality and good health. The anchor says:Mushroom khaao, Modi ban jaao. With a few lines, Anuragand his writer Nihit Bhave, establish the PM’s cult of personality and hisappeal to his core audience – the middle class. So Sushant,like other residents in the building, believes that demonetization will cleansethe country of black money. But, Sarita has no time toconsider these possibilities, because she’s an exhaustedand harassed bank employee. Post-demonetization, the bank is overrunby people trying to exchange notes. When an elderly lady begs Sarita to give her moremoney, she replies with a blank expression: “Bank mein paise milte hain,sympathy nahi milti.” Unke haath jodiye jinko vote diya tha. It’s a precise skeweringof the current government. The film renders effectivelythe oppressive routine and the ordinariness ofSushant and Sarita’s lives. He’s a musician who is toolazy to hold down a job, but that doesn’t stop him fromdemanding better service from his hardworking wife,who supports them both. When he says to her:”Hafte mein teesri baar aloo khila rahi ho”, you want to lean into that frame,and slap him. She robotically works, cooks, cleans and remembers with remorse, a moreglamorous life that she left behind. She was once a leading contestanton a reality show. Those scenes, colorful and brightly lit, arein stark contrast to her drab existence now. Sarita is a woman haunted by failure. Her dreams are so contained,that even when she has wads of cash, she doesn’t rush out to buyclothes or jewelry. Instead, she splurges on household itemslike curtains and cushion covers. Choked is strongest when Anurag isdealing with emotions and relationships, like the fraying bond betweenhusband and wife; their connections with the neighborswho are their support system, but are also noisy,gossipy and hypocritical. Amruta Subhash is exactly rightas Sharvari Tai, who somehow manages to be bothcompassionate and opportunistic. DOP Sylvester Fonseca’s roving camera establishes the limited spacesthat the drama unravels in – we mostly move betweenthe building and the bank. There is that typically Mumbaisense of claustrophobia – so when Sushant and Sarita fight, they mustdo it with their son sleeping between them. But the suspense in the filmis not as sharply written. The idea of pipes throwing upcash is instantly intriguing. Choked begins witha delectable title sequence in which money is unpackedand repacked for storage, but the film doesn’t deliveron the promise of this. The weakest link is a goonwho complicates the plot further and the climactic action,which just feels forced, almost as if Anurag and Nihit werejust in a hurry to wrap things up. There are several sequences in whichKarsh Kale’s jaunty background score is drumming up an urgency thatthe screenplay just doesn’t have. Essentially, Choked isAnurag in minor key. There are sporadic moments of flashiness,but mostly the storytelling, like Sarita, is subdued. There’s little of that raw, visceral energythat we connect with this filmmaker. But as usual, he elicits solid performances from his actors. Saiyami Kher captures every nuanceof the beleaguered Sarita. She’s terrific in a scene in whichSarita finally breaks down. Roshan Mathew – you might rememberhis wonderful performance in Moothon – has less to play with, but he enables usto see the vulnerability and weakness under Sushant’s belligerence. The tagline of the film is’Paisa bolta hai’. But, what does money say? It’s telling that Sarita has to step intothis dirty black water to get those wads of cash.

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