Anurag Kashyap cinema is often a throbbing beast, waiting to be tamed by presenting a sharp critique on it. The man makes films that demand to be critiqued, for his filmmaking thrives in the quest of trying to present his point of view of the world through his erratic storytelling. Choked, although, not written by him, is a typical Anurag Kashyap film for the most part. The idea calls for a cinematic voice that is political and opinionated and Kashyap latches on to this opportunity to tell the story of a middleclass couple’s strange tale during the time of demonitization. Sarita and Sushant live in a claustrophobic apartment in Mumbai, with a faulty sewage system. In the overflowing filth, Sarita finds bundles of cash gushing in with the water from the faulty pipeline. Without a hint of fear or Contemplation, she starts making use of the money that she finds, without worrying about the source. In her world, the concept of meeting ends, supersedes the concept of honesty and integrity.
Sarita was a singing participant on a reality show. She loses as she is panicstricken at the sight of the audience. The overwhelming grandeur of the occasion not only chokes her voice but also her life. The dreams seep through the cracks in the unrepaired sealings of the house, at night. But these dreams are coloured by the nightmarish feeling of paranoia. In an excellent sequence a water bottle from which she is about to drink, is used as a visual motif for a mic as she is reminded of the moment of choking on stage. The recurring moment of shame and paranoia deeply settle into her. Anurag uses long uncut sequences that play out in the foreground as the background is peppered with live drums and tabla. This treatment feels like a performance being conducted in a reality show, with live music in the background. Especially the scenes involving Sarita either hiding the money or being chased by a loan shark are spiked up by this unique background score, lending it a feeling of a performance being played out in front of us.
Choked has a three act structure that is punctuated by three major events that shape the story. The story itself is an interesting one but the choice to linger on the marital mess of Sarita and Sushant augurs well for the film as it produces some of the best and genuine moments in the film. Every Anurag Kashyap film runs the risk of being overly indulgent and this film is no different. The film goes on about the repercussions of demonitization and subplots branch out of this narrative convoluting it further with hairpin bends in character intentions and an utterly clumsy final act that is bland and convenient. The film could have ended at the most Anurag Kashyap moment, where in the most significant scene in the final act, he cuts to a ‘ could have been ‘ scenario where Sarita completes the song in the reality show and she continues to sing. Ending the film here would have complemented his abstract style but he chooses to give it a more conventional end, in doing which, convolutes the plot and the politics of the characters, further.
The inescapable idiosyncrasies of middleclass develop an innate sense of unintended humour. The dialogue writing is sharp and economic. Time nahi hai mere paas Pradhanmantri ke baare me sochne ke liye, says Sarita when Sushant tells her how the Prime Minister went to the Himalayas for the welfare of his people. This line sums up the triviality of the irrelevant celebration of a public representatives’ supposed struggle, in the lives of people who struggle to make ends meet. Despite casting a stinging satire on idolization of a political leader, Kashyap does not go overboard in taking sides on the matter of Demonitization. Unlike his twitter feed, his political commentatory is not irrational and brash but is informed and profound. Instead of resorting to uncouth anger, he uses smart satire to make a political statement. When a frustrated bank employee says to a customer asking for more exchange of notes, ” Jaake unse poocho na jinko vote diya hai “, it does not quite qualify as an agenda of the filmmaker as the character’s frustration in the moment is completely understandable.
Saiyami Kher as Sarita is pitch perfect. She imbues Sarita with just the right amount of simmering frustration and fading affection. The performances are precise, never bursting with visceral moments of madness, unlike characters from the filmmakers earlier films, in similar situations. Roshan Mathew plays Sushant a jobless, irresponsible husband who is underservedly demanding of better treatment by his wife, while he sways unambitiously. The reaction to the announcement of demonitization speaks volumes about the characters of Sarita and Sushant. Sarita is shook and ruminates the possible future and Sushant celebrates the apparent good that will happen to the nation because of demonitization. This belief of good happening to the Nation does not come from a well informed sense of analysis but merely from hearsay of the people around him. He is decidedly meek and superficial, almost afraid to take control of his life. Roshan Mathew plays Sushant with a sense of disarming indifference to the suffering his wife endures. The way Roshan enacts this indifference is so sincere that you pity his stupidity but are never furious. Amrita Subhash as Tayi, a divorced neighbour in a frantic fit of making arrangements for her daughter’s wedding which is almost sabotaged by the unannounced strategy of Demonitization. She displays her exceptional best in every role she takes up but the moment she enters an Anurag Kashyap film, there is a certain unleashed dimentia that she is allowed to embrace and each time, it is her character that delivers the memorable acting bits of a film. In choked, she displays some of the best acting in two extremely different emotions, played out at different pitches. There is a deeply personal, heartfelt conversation in which she shines, by underplaying and in other, she captures the abrupt sting of hysteria the news of demonitization brings along, with a shrill, unsettling laughter that painfully segues into madness. It is thrilling to watch her perform.
Taking a powerful subject and either making a masterpiece out of it or a fascinatingly flawed film sums up Anurag Kashyap’s filmography. The apparent love marriage is now choked, Sarita’s singing career is choked, Sushant’s ambition and drive is choked. It tries to incorporate all these choked lives into telling a story but eventually, fades away into unaffecting chaos. Their son’s childhood is choked, thanks to their fissured marriage. In a brilliant scene, mirroring the unforgettable Police Station scene from Ugly, mother and father fight over something and ask for their sleeping child to vouch for them. This long sequence of madness is funny and heartbreaking at the same time. It is moments like these, of personal pain that overpower the politics of the film. In handling the long uncut sequences of marital mess, Anurag has discovered a sense of calm in his direction and it is beautifully juxtaposed with the erratic moments of filmmaking, which were always there. Although not one of his best films, Choked certainly contributes in Anurag Kashyap’s growth as a director. Choked is also a breath of fresh air for Netflix India that was suffering from the absolutely uncreative filth, lately.