Choked Review: Anurag Kashyap's demonetisation drama works best as a domestic saga
The Netflix movie benefits from strong performances by Saiyami Kher and Roshan Mathew
Does money really talk? That's the question that will plague you after watching Anurag Kashyap's dark thriller Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, that debuted on Netflix today.
Those seeking a convoluted marital drama, as evinced in the trailer, revolving around a forever bickering married couple, Sushant and Sarita, may be a bit disappointed with the plot that veers into the infamous demonetisation drive introduced by Indian PM Narendra Modi in October, 2016.
It's no doubt a subject matter that will find resonance among the average, middle-class Indian who has still not forgotten that historic moment when they learnt that their hard earned money had gone down the drain.
In Choked it is literally the point of the story. When an average middle-class working woman, trying hard to make ends meet in a household where she is the sole bread earner, chances upon wads of notes spewing from her clogged kitchen sink pipe, she views it as an escape from the beleaguered, debt-ridden existence she is caught in.
Saiyami Kher (who made her Bollywood debut in the spectacularly mounted Mirzya) as the overburdened housewife, caught in a rut, between a deadbeat husband with musical aspirations but no talent to keep a job, and long hours as an overburdened bank cashier in the aftermath of the demonetisation drive, is perfectly cast. She is able to communicate the extreme mundaneness of her existence with barely a flicker of emotions even as she is unable to express her inner fears and frustrations to her husband.
Malayalam actor and theatre performer Roshan Mathew matches her effortlessly and his sheer talent is evident in his ability to elevate his self-indulgent character, into a slightly likable through unforgivingly chauvinistic husband.
Kashyap's world is one where the political critique is thrown in most subtly into the equation and one where gender politics is played out so matter-of-factly that it strikes you hard.
Sushant is constantly derided for being a wastrel, for not being able to even pick up after himself in their tiny living space. At one point his son, Sameer, points out - 'Even I do more work than him in the house.' But he is a man so consumed by his own failure, that he is quite oblivious to what's going on in his own kitchen.
When he complains about getting to eat potato everyday instead of the more desirable paneer, Sarita retorts: "You feed a couch potato, potato only, right?' And you tend to empathise with her.
The claustrophobic life in a typical Mumbai society is brought out so starkly - the overflowing kitchen sink, the dark and dingy rooms all pull us in into a world soured by failed business ventures, broken dreams and a marriage crumbling under unspoken fears and snide comments. But it is also a world made lively by gossiping neighbors and kitty parties and get-togethers where women dance in the dark under the glare of their mobile phones with their sunglasses on.
Choked reflects many things - the clogged kitchen sink that is the bane of Sarita's life, the stilted relationship between a once loving couple, the suffocation Sarita feels when called upon to sing on a public platform, the stifled ambitions of Sushant and the despondency and frustration of a nation hit hard by the demonetisation news.
Choked works on many levels - as a noir thriller, a domestic drama, a political satire, and even though the latter is so subtly handled that the nuances might escape you, Kashyap's intentions are never camouflaged in any way.
More than the story it is the strong performances by the entire cast - led by Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew and Amruta Subash (as their nosy but well-meaning neighbor) - that makes it extremely watchable. Technically it is top notch be it the upbeat background score by Karsh Kale (Gully Boy) or the voyeuristic cinematography by Sylvester Fonseca (Sacred Games) that plucks you into the dingy Mumbai society flat.
At one hour and 54 minutes, Choked is a movie that worked best for me as a domestic drama, one in which couples fight over mundane things like the vegetables cooked for dinner and have no qualms waking up their sleeping son only to prove their own respective point. Kashyap can hardly be faulted for that - he gets the nitty gritty of relationships right and again depending on our political leanings, Choked reflects the angst of the Indian middle-class who were caught in the crossfires between a political party and the corrupt black-money hoarding rich and the powerful. But does money really talk? And if so what does it say, is one question the movie fails to address.
Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Cast: Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew, Amruta Subash
Rating: 3 out of 5