Roshan Mathew on Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai and the appeal of OTT platforms

Roshan Mathew, choked, theatre, Kashyap, review, Koode, Malayalam cinema, Bollywood, Saiyami Kher, Netflix

The Malayalam actor made his Bollywood debut in Anurag Kashyap's Netflix film

By Ambica Sachin

Published: Mon 8 Jun 2020, 3:20 PM

Last updated: Sun 9 Aug 2020, 6:51 PM

Malayalam actor and theatre performer Roshan Mathew has no qualms admitting that more than the script it was Anurag Kashyap, the maverick director behind some heavy duty projects like Sacred Games, Manmarziyaan and Gangs of Wasseypur that prompted him to sign on for Netflix's original movie Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai that released last weekend.
Review: Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai: Anurag Kashyap's demonetisation drama works best as a domestic saga
"I have seen his films; fell in love with most of them," he confesses in an interview with City Times. "I have a lot of respect for him as a director. I would have done the film even if he cast me like in one scene or even as a passerby. Everything that happened afterwards - the cast, the actors, the experience I had shooting the film - was an add on, like cherries piled on top."

Mathew is very measured in his tone when he speaks about his transition from the Malayalam film industry to Bollywood. Though to be fair, Choked in definitely not your average Bollywood movie. But like many of his contemporaries like Dulquer Salmaan and Prithviraj (though again both these actors are much senior to Roshan who is a relatively new entrant to the world of movies), the actor is pretty clear that Bollywood was not part of his plan in any way. "This is not something that I dreamt of or planned in any way," he says. "I don't work that way. I take every day, one day at a time, one project at a time."
This is definitely reflected in the movies Roshan has picked up along the way from his debut in Puthiya Niyamam in 2016 to Aanandam in the same year and his short but effective role as the lead singer of a college band in Anjali Menon's Koode.
But it was Geetu Mohandas' festival favourite Moothon, where he shared screen space with another talented Malayalam star, Nivin Pauly, that catapulted him to the gaze of directors like Kashyap. Roshan famously got a call from the filmmaker, who was impressed after seeing the rushes of Moothon.
"I think the closest I have to a plan is a list of filmmakers or people I want to associate with in my head and even that I kept very realistic. So someone like an Anurag Kashyap was too big to be on my list. So when this worked out it felt too good to be true."
And as if to underline the pull of the man behind the script, he admits, "I would have said yes to it (Choked) no matter what my character was, what the script was. But when I read the script later I fell in love with it. I really like Sushant's character."
A sentiment audiences might not exactly concur with though. As a struggling, angst-driven musician, wallowing in self-pity, what is most unforgiving about his character in Choked is his casual chauvinism. But even here, Roshan is able to inject Sushant with a certain degree of likability so that even as one feels like shaking him up when he moans about wanting paneer instead of potato for dinner, one tends to view him through a soft lens as well.
OTT rules
Part of the appeal of Choked for the actor, also probably lay in the platform. A trained theatre artist - Roshan has been performing in plays since his senior school days - he has performed in over 37 plays besides the 12-13 movies including ones, in his own words, where he has done very minor roles. "OTT platforms are in a way I think fairer to people like me cause you get cast for the apt role or you get work opportunities basically if you fit the bill for the character and if the director trusts you to perform. There isn't that much priority given to what sort of star value you carry or how much money you can bring in. So all of those things blur out a little bit and the priority stays with the right thing, so I am very glad this happened with Netflix."

"OTT platforms more than anything provides a level playing field," he continues. "A big budget film or a small one like Choked or even one without the name of Anurag Kashyap added to it will still get the same amount of space. It's just one click away for anyone in the world to see. There is a sense of fairness to it. No other film is going to come and muscle a film out of the OTT platform."
"It's like your movie is playing in a theatre where all the other movies are playing. Everybody gets screen time and it's there for a lifetime and it will always have an audience." 
Getting typecast?
With his curly hair and college-boy looks Roshan could have easily got typecast and considering Choked sees him playing a musician (yet again), we ask him gingerly if he ever worries about it. To our surprise he takes it on quite seriously. "I've thought a lot about this too and this is something that has worried me too. I keep getting offered musician parts frequently and yes, I also think it is because maybe I look a certain way - something that you'd associate with a college musician than to an IT Professor and that is something that I have been waiting to change as well. It's not been easy; it is not always our decision; it is also a certain look and feel that the director has in mind."
While attributing this to his signature curly waves, he also goes on to add that he has rejected more musician roles than the three roles he has taken on so far, in Aanandam, Koode and Choked. "There are more layers to all three of the characters apart from the fact that they are all musicians."
Despite having some good projects to his name, Roshan still seems uncertain about the path ahead. He is one of the few artists who doesn't seem afraid to vocalise the ephemeral nature of his job. "There have been very many times when I felt my family was happier than me about my journey so far because we know how unpredictable the situation almost always is. We know how unstable this career is and all that stress sort of takes away from the joy that you can get from the work you are doing."
Hailing from a family of theatre lovers, Roshan sounds a bit wistful when he talks of how his family celebrates every release of his. "For me that is not the case - there are movies that I am attached to, there are movies I am proud of more than the others. None of that matters to them, so yeah, it is sort of very unfiltered, very pure joy and excitement and I sometimes envy it (with a smile) I sometimes wish I could be as happy about the work that I'm doing - but this is also a good thing. It helps to keep you grounded. It makes me happy that they are happy."
Theatre will bounce back
While Roshan has been busy with promotions for Choked, he has also been open about using the recent time off to just sit still and prioritise himself - be it read a book, sit by the window or focus on his workouts. "Even as I say this I can't help but cringe at the realisation of how much better people like me have it than thousands of people out on the streets," he admits sheepishly. "I'm almost ashamed to say this but yeah, that's what has been happening but it is not without guilt I guess."

Considering the current norms on social distancing does he ever fear theatre as he knows it might no longer hold sway? "Theatre always manages to bounce back," he asserts with a calm confidence that you tend to envy. "If it didn't have the ability to bounce back theatre as an art form would have been dead a long time ago. It has always been struggling. It has always been classified as a dying art form. But if films couldn't kill theatre, I don't think a pandemic will be able to."

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