Choked Movie Review: A minor thriller on the curses of cash
Distracted and self-absorbed, Anurag Kashyap’s film fails to weave a bigger picture
Like the recent cyclone that threatened to sweep Mumbai, Anurag Kashyap’s Choked has a stormy start but quickly careens off its course. Set in the city of dreams and woven around the 2016 demonetisation, this might be the director’s feeblest work yet, a minor thriller with a few bright spots but nothing uniquely seductive or fresh. As Sarita (Saiyami Kher), the film’s protagonist, disastrously learns, you can’t just swap out old notes for new.
Cast: Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew, Amruta Subhash
Director: Anurag Kashyap
Streaming on: Netflix
In an early scene, we see Sarita in bed, wide-awake. Sushant (Roshan Mathew), her out-of-work, musician husband, is asleep beside her, along with their young boy. They live in an ordinary Maharashtrian apartment, its blue walls damp and peeling. It’s not the wisest location choice for a thriller — something cinematographer Sylvester Fonseca accentuates in the opening shot, with the camera tilting up the face of the building to reveal a clouded sky.
But as Sarita squints into the darkness, her mind drifts off to a giant disco orb flashing red and green. We learn that she was once an aspiring singer, but gave it all up after an unfortunate choke-up during a talent show. The moment still haunts her, though she shrugs it off by burying herself in her banking job and supporting her husband’s dream.
One night, bundles of cash start magically bubbling up under her kitchen sink. At least Sarita thinks it’s magical — initially using the money to pay off a loan shark on Sushant’s tail. But then demonetisation strikes, prying neighbours try to get in on the game, and Sarita gets caught in a rough spot.
And so does the film. In trying to weave the myriad aftershocks of the 2016 move — beginning with the long queues at Sarita’s bank, the spells of cash shortage — Nihit Bhave’s script loses its baseline of cohesion. Some scenes stick out for their bland commentary, instead of the bolder, cheekier commentary of Mukkabaaz or Gangs of Wasseypur. This is Anurag operating at his slackest, baldly stating his scorn instead of finding imaginative workarounds.
All along, the filmmaking remains top-notch. Simple household sounds — clanks, gurgles, clicks — are used to create thickets of suspense. An entire sequence is built around Sarita retrieving cash from strategic points in the house. There’s money under the puja shelf, in a tin jar, even stuffed into an empty torch. The camera choreography gets repetitive, compounded by the drum solos spread throughout the score.
In Ugly (2013), another film with a kid and a broken relationship, the mood was cynically caustic. Choked offers a more redemptive arc to its characters. Sarita is disappointed in Sushant, yet wants him out of trouble. Though she’s always on his case, their arguments don’t spill too far. In one scene, he confronts her for hiding things from him. She insists they’ll fight later. When he presses for answers, she tells him to fetch her sindoor. “Who keeps sindoor in the bathroom?” he ends up asking, the kind of absurd swerve that quickly eases the mood.
Saiyami acquits herself well in a multi-layered role. Her look of faint exasperation vividly reflects the day-to-day grind of female breadwinners in the city, while their husbands play carrom and Candy Crush. Roshan, making his Bollywood debut, is effective in his part, though not always in sync with the Mumbai milieu. There’s an army of Anurag Kashyap faces: Amruta Subhash, Rajshri Deshpande, Aditya Kumar. Amruta, in particular, steals the show with her hysteric meltdown near the middle: an easy winner over the raucous Tamil number that plays immediately after.
Choked assesses how grand policy decisions impact ordinary lives. It’s a pertinent question, but the film fails to connect the dots — or doesn’t care beyond a point. It’s too distracted and self-absorbed to offer a bigger picture. The tagline might be 'Paisa Bolta Hai', but this film has little else to say.