Synopsis – A bank employee weighed down by her jobless husband’s debts – and her own broken dreams – finds a secret source of seemingly unlimited cash in her home.
My Take – Nearly three years ago, on 8th November to be precise India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, took it upon himself, at a nightly hour, to make an announcement about how his current government would be yanking Rs.500 and Rs.1000 bills from circulation, all in an attempt to curtail the shadow economy and reduce the use of illicit and counterfeit cash to fund illegal activity and terrorism.
While the move might did feel immediately righteousness at once, especially for the middle class and the lower income groups, however, given the significant limited amount of time for citizens to head to their nearest bank in order to exchange their old currency for the new bills ended up causing more troubles than ease. With queues lasting up to nine to ten hours, with ATMs and banks running out of cash, the overall atmosphere just led to a good amount of panic and eventually the disruption of the economy.
For his full length debut on Netflix (following his anthology segment in Ghost Stories), director Anurag Kashyap, from a script by Nihit Bhave (Sacred Games 2), keeps this event as the spine of his latest tale, which details the journey of a typical middle-class family, in which the marriage has been sliding on a rocky terrain as a result of a shattered dream, all the while making a bold political statement on the ‘note ban’ phase of contemporary India.
Though it has its set of severe problems, the film also manages to be amusing enough to keep you interested till the final act kicks in. Led by powerful performances and uplifted by Anurag Kashyap’s decent directorial job, who once again proving his mettle as a filmmaker, consider this one as a casual weekend watch that will keep you intrigued.
The story follows Sarita (Saiyami Kher), a once promising singer, who is still haunted by her stint on a reality singing show where she froze during a performance with her husband Sushant (Roshan Mathew), her guitarist, hence putting an end to both their premature careers. Now living in a middle-class chawl with their young son, Sarita has a decent-paying government job at a bank, while Sushant remains unemployed, discontented with the thought of a blue-collar job and has debts here and there, and mostly tends to sit around all day and not do the dishes, or even play music like he used to.
Fed up with bearing the weight of their financial burden, Sarita often finds herself at odds with Sushant. However, her life takes a drastic turn when she finds their damaged kitchen sink gurgle and pop out money at 4 a.m., a process which continues at the same time for numerous days.
Worried that Sushant would lose it all, she hides them all over the flat, and spends a bit especially in re-modelling their hall. But troubles soon begins when the demonetization hits, and her little windfall suddenly gets complicated, especially more when she finds a strange man (Upendra Limaye) following her to and from work, allowing the local gossips mongers in the society to build their own theories.
Director Anurag Kashyap is known for his generally known for his dark yet bold contend, and with writer Nihit Bhave, he brings good things to the fore, with the duo getting really inventive as the world of the story is defined to be a small one, which is never overshadowed by his usual style. Here, he is more focused more on the initial reactions of the middle-class families and the amount of trauma and the horrors of demonstration that they endured.
The humor too works for the most part, as we now knew how the entire stint was maneuvered, as corrupt politicians still managed to find a way out, and black marketeers ended up profiting with their 1,000 for 600 schemes, despite the PM’s abrupt statement. He simply consolidates all that we’ve seen unfold on news into one compact, crisp, tight film, with a lot of interesting sparks that keep the screenplay moving throughout – be it the conversational way in which the backstories are brought forward, the demonetization stretches or the unusual climax.
The film is as much a critique of the government, of the social structure, and of gender biases that come into play in everyday lives. One of the better-explored themes in the film is the failure of men, both at the top levels of government and in the household.
For example, Sushant’s brittle relationship with Sarita explodes in a night-time argument waged through loud whispers even as their young son sleeps between them. Sushant’s fecklessness extends to his chosen language of Tamil, in which he also curses. While Sushant lauds Modi as the man who will single-handedly destroyed the black economy, but it is Sarita, who has to deal with long queues, anxious bank customers, and knows better.
The film also encapsulates the inability to win and be successful in life, and the corrupt society as a whole. Yes, money really speaks in this film like a character itself establishing emotional connect. In one of the best scenes of the film director Kashyap captures the claustrophobia of their living space, and stages a highly effective nightmare sequence in which Sarita gets her arm caught in the drain. The film exquisitely contrasts the helplessness of Sarita’s singing mishap with her gig at the bank, which temporarily puts her at the position of power, a position that’ll test the mental strength of anyone’s moral flexibility.
However, the film suffers from major pacing issues, as it struggles to maintain the initial tempo, and dips quite in the middle, especially when the subplot of the mysterious follower kicks in. The film also takes too much time to say very little. Its setup and premise certainly is intriguing and not having seen the trailer, its reveal of ceasing certain note circulation raised my interest levels for how it would play out. Unfortunately, it doesn’t capitalize on its race-against-time potential and the narrative all but grinds to a halt until a mostly unsuccessful last gasp effort to inject some thrills.
Nevertheless, the film benefits from solid performances, especially from Saiyami Kher. Here she commands the lead and gives a performance that is increasingly nuanced as the character’s life ebbs and flows more and more dramatically. Roshan Mathew is equally effective, you really hate him for not getting off his cushy bottom and getting a job. We truly did. In supporting roles, Amruta Shubhash, Rajshree Deshpande, Tushar Dalvi, and Upendra Limaye are very effective. On the whole, ‘Choked’ is a petite but largely engaging thriller that should be relished for its theme and performances.
Directed – Anurag Kashyap
Rated – NR
Run Time – 114 minutes