Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers of Netflix’s Choked.
Anurag Kashyap’s latest film Choked just dropped on Netflix amidst lockdown. The Saiyami Kher-led film is the first film to come out of the filmmakers new banner, Good Bad Films. And it came ready to take viewers back in time to relive the horrors of demonetization. Right from the outset, you know you’re getting a domestic thriller but trust me when I say, you aren’t prepared for how differently this film hits.
Starring Saiyami Kher (Mirzya. Special OPS) and Roshan Mathew (Moothon), Choked is the story of Sarita, a woman struggling to make ends meet with her government job at the bank. Her stay-at-home husband Sushant, with his piled up debts, isn’t helping much. One day, she discovers that the drain underneath her sink is spouting banknotes. Relieved, she takes it without questioning the drain-delivered money assuming her problems would be over. But that’s short-lived because demonetization is about to cancel a lot of that money she’s been showing away. In an effort to understand how it all comes crashing down, the economy and the trauma of the protagonist, I asked Saiyami Kher and Roshan Mathew to decode some of the craziest scenes in Choked.
Now, the film explores the angle of a couple’s marriage and how money, love and power are interlinked. Between the realistic tones, surrealist storytelling and slow hypnotic cinematography, Choked highlighted two very familiar human emotions. The first to arrive is the disillusionment that comes with the demonetization and pretty much any announcement of the variety (read: Janata Curfew). The second is the inherent horrors of feeling helpless in a cash crunch within an impossible economy. In my opinion, this played out perfectly in two very crazy scenes. I asked the actors to break them down so you don’t have to.
As soon as demonetization was announced, citizens had very divided and dramatic reactions. While some cheered on for a new “historic” decision, others couldn’t help but feel the panic of having all their money rendered useless. Now, we all know the IRL event panned out with many margins of society severely impacted by the sudden move. This scene through a song and dance captures the same sentiment. What’s up with the disillusioned dancing after the PM’s demonetization announcement?
Roshan: That was again a scene that wasn’t in the original draft. That song and dance sequence was added a couple of days before we started shooting. So again there were a lot of arguments that happened regarding that. What we eventually settled upon was AK’s (Anurag Kashyap) understanding of it that worked for me. There was a certain sense of euphoria when the announcement came in and there were a lot of people who thought that this meant good news, that this was something to be celebrated and they were losing themselves in celebrations without thinking about what the possible repercussions will be or are we even equipped to employ this in a way that it is beneficial to the population. So the song is that it’s a quick representation of that. And I heard AK say that he needed a tool to sort of cut between the announcement of demonetisation and a few days after the announcement. The initial madness that could pretty much be shown as a montage and that worked well.
Saiyami: The song also captures the chaos out of the banks which is very very real so with regards to Sarita going to be the bank and seeing queues and queues of people standing outside so I think that was also captured in this song.
Coming down the scene where Sarita is having a nightmare. A lot of Sarita’s problems arise from keeping things to herself and fighting her battles alone. In a particularly terrifying scene, the character has her arm down the drain and it gets stuck. Of course, it’s a nighthmare but that drops a huge clue about the largely silent character.
Saiyami: That sequence was also not in the script and two days before shooting AK woke up and we were all living in the same house together. One day he woke up at breakfast and said I’ve got a great idea, we’re gonna do this nightmare and that’s how we shot it. So it was as last-minute like that. The whole idea was that it was a nightmare and this is happening. When we shot it, the mechanics of it also – there was like dirty water actually coming out and the art department had crushed parle-G biscuits in it, rice and stuff and it was all coming out. And from under the drain, I had someone holding my hand and pulling it down. And I was completely soaked in drain water. The sequence was initially very long but I’m glad that the final cut has been cut down. But it goes on. Also, the depiction of Sarita screaming and shouting for her husband’s help who is oblivious to what’s happening.
Anurag Kashyap chimes in at this point and explains, “Her nightmare is that whenever she’ll be trouble her husband will be like haha”.
Well, that explains a lot!
For a more detailed, obsessive probe into Choked check out what director Anurag Kashyap has to say about the film:
Cover image: Netflix