Cast: Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew, Amruta Subhash
Director: Anurag Kashyap
A lockdown premiere on Netflix by JAR Films, ‘Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai’ takes you to a world where Sai Paranjape’s (Kathaa) simple staid shelters crosses path with Danny Boyle’s (Slumdog Millionaire) stumbling struggling space. A bewitching crossover genre offering from Anurag Kashyap’s stable, but this caper is its own beast tamed and helmed adroitly by the director.
It’s an off-beat genre for him where he puts rest to his sense and sensibilities but still is on the ball. It is astonishingly not-so-dark but at the same time never crosses into the make-believe shiny world of Bollywood. A fleeting take on ‘Demonetization’ is also attempted but turns out to be more of a prop than a premise.
A middle class narrative in chock-a-block ramshackle boxes of some non-descript suburb Mumbai. Here, money (rather its absence) is something, which runs as the common thread through one and all. It is a universe where even little money makes the world go round; at least it sputters up few lives of this lower middle class universe. And there comes a point, where ‘filthy’ (in more sense than one) money makes it move in circles. Paisa (money) is a character in this movie and yes when it speaks – every one of them hears it – loud and clear.
A middle class family with a husband – Sushant Pillai (Roshan Mathew), who does not earn any money but only scorn and debts and a wife – Sarita Sahasrabuddhe (Saiyami Kher) who does. He is into job hopping but is very averse to stick to them and she works as a teller in a small cooperative bank. It is the wife who wears the pants in the house and it is the husband who bears the butt of jokes about the arrangement.
For it is not an arrangement that they dreamt of: he always wished to be a musician and she always desired to be a crooner. While travelling back in time, the movie teasingly unravels their past where the female protagonist ‘chokes’ while performing on a tacky singing reality show. In this deafening silence of her choked voice, the man of the house with a guitar in hand and dreams in head on the stage besides her, hears loud crashing of his dreams getting shattered. The knot is set and as time passes by it gets more entangled causing their marital life to be murkier and messier.
The fights and verbal duels between the lead pair is stuff, which lower middle class goes and sees through almost all their lives. Anurag makes it more poignant by throwing in a hapless child – Sameer, who cannot decide which side he is on – as the tug of war goes on. Mostly, it is about money or the utter lack of it.
The cubicle like boxes of the locality resides varied characters, who fleet in and fleet out but not without leaving an impression. There is the first floor lady Sharvari (Amruta Subhash), who is struggling as a single parent to get her social media obsessed daughter married. She can be caring, chirpy, cunning and crass all the more at the same time.
Then there is a so-called business partner of Sushant, who always ends up saying and doing things he should not. The women of the building binds together with daily gossip and occasional kitty parties with food, music and tombola to boot, it is their way to collectively escape the grappling humdrum engulfing their lives.
In their dull dreary life in matchbox like houses, lurching locals, cramped offices, and ever shrinking space – things begins to spiral-up and the kitchen sink drain pipes gets clogged and after few days of spewing only filth and dirt, it every now and then begins spewing rolled up currency notes wrapped and packed in plastic, and the game starts.
The housewife who was regularly asking for plumber suddenly goes quiet and takes it upon herself to take care of the ‘filth’ coming out of drainage. The cat and mouse game begins between husband and wife, between filthy money and clean bank money, between the restaurant owner who loaned money to Sushant and Sarita, between neighbors and the money movers. Every floor has its own filthy money-spewing drains, which spirals up and down and this has a direct correlation with inhabitants’ life’s ups and downs.
The operation ‘laundry’ is going out smooth as Sarita not only gets hold of money to deposit in bank but partially keeps the small time loan-sharks at bay by throwing a few wads at them. Meanwhile, a failed attempt is also made to rope her services in laundering but she is able to stall it. And just when everyone has understood the rules of the game, there comes ‘The Announcement’ from PM Modi about ‘Demonetization’ and the whole world moves topsy-turvy. Most are happy, they expresses it through gigs and gyrations. The sub-class divide of ‘haves and have-nots’ even within a bunch of ‘pure-have-nots’ is sub-textual and powerful.
Roshan Mathew (Sushant) as the husband is sincere and has not many colors to dab his act with. His character is one dimensional and he plays it with aplomb. Saiyami Kher (Sarita) is the bulwark of the art work and she deglamorizes herself to fit the bill and boy she delivers! There is not a false step in her act. She plays the edgy at-times-tough and at-times-vulnerable to perfection. Anurag lets her rediscover herself. She is at the top of her game in every frame she appears.
Amruta Subhash (Sharvari) is her usual natural self. She is a part of Kashyap’s universe and she knows what he expects and lives up to them without a blink. She delivers a good performance but at times has a tendency to go overboard by turning character into a caricature. Others, who inhabit the camera space are as good as they are, and there’s an imprint of a veteran director who knows his cast. The camerawork (Sylvester Fonseca) is dynamically first class and the background score by Karsh Kale keeps it alive and pulsating.
Anurag Kashyap slaloms well in this atypical terrain. He sheds his natural skin and dons a new one without anyone noticing as he slips in this new avatar. Although the film scores high on all factors but lacks his signature throb and thump. Demonetization looks and appears like an afterthought and is given a half-hearted treatment, although you get to witness both the hope and despair of that dreaded Nov 8, 2016, random call about legality of few tenders.
May be the makers missed a trick or two in en-cashing the abrupt big-cash de-notification. What it missed was the fleshing out of meta-plot about the spewed money – dirty, black and filthy. The climax is more hurried than pacy and does not suit the sustained and substantive build up. All said and done, though it lands its deliveries right on the ‘money’ and it definitely ‘chokes’ the flow of runs but in the end it fails to uproot the stumps.
More of a middling attempt on middle class. Give it a go, won’t choke you!
Stars: 3.5 on 5
Dr Jitendra Sharma is an engineer with PhD in Mechanical Engg. He is Professor of Operations and Supply Chain at IMT, Nagpur. He has worked in industry for 5 years and 25 years in academics.