‘Choked is a Sai Paranjpye thriller on demonetisation’: Anurag Kashyap

Money matters: (top) Anurag Kashyap; (above) Roshan Mathew in a still from Choked

Money matters: (top) Anurag Kashyap; (above) Roshan Mathew in a still from Choked  

Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap has never been shy in vocalising his political opinions on Twitter. Albeit, these days his views have taken on a particularly snarky tone. But that’s been a deliberate decision. The real challenge, for him, is in keeping his personal politics separate from his work. Just like how he couldn’t possibly have the protagonists of his latest film, Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, parrot his personal opinions.


Written in 2015 by Nihit Bhave, the absurdist feature explores the lives of a young married couple against the backdrop of the 2016 Indian banknote demonetisation. “When it first happened, my impulsive reaction was that [demonetisation] was a great idea to counter black money and I put that out [on Twitter],” remembers Kashyap. “Now I think in terms of consequences.” On set of Choked, there were fights, arguments and an army of the cast and crew to keep Kashyap in check. “Nihit [Bhave, writer of Choked] is a very strong and honest person who would call me out every time,” smiles the director.

Anurag Kashyap

Anurag Kashyap  


Hooks and sinkers

Stuck in limbo for years before seeing the light of day, Choked presents a story we’ve all witnessed: a middle-class couple living hand-to-mouth in cramped Mumbai. In this case, Maharashtrian Sarita (Saiyami Kher), a former singer traumatised by her inability to perform, is woefully wedded to Tamilian Sushant (Roshan Mathew), a failed musician jumping from one small job to the next. Their luck changes when Sarita’s clogged kitchen sink starts spewing wads of cash ensconced in plastic in coughs of black, mucky drainage liquid. Then demonetisation strikes, cruelly destroying her changing fortune while the couple’s mounting debt continues. Side note: recently, writer Bhave was involved in a plagiarism row with Indian director Wilson Louis over the premise of Choked. But the claim has been settled out of courts.

With a bizarre plot and earnest execution, the film relays the trials and tribulations of the lives that make-up Mumbai’s social tapestry. From chai-fuelled bachelorette parties with sari-clad dancing housewives to community cooking and gossipy neighbours whiling boredom away with games of carrom. “These last few years, everything is so Punjabi in Hindi films,” says 28-year-old Kher, who grew up in a middle-class Maharashtrian household and made her debut in Mirzya (2014).

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 “Everyone at sangeets today is dancing to Yo Yo Honey Singh. That’s not really our culture. So the film is refreshing in its treatment.” The attention to detail, Kashyap says, is meticulous. The seamless authenticity can be seen in Sarita’s soft-hued simple saris to the derelict office premises at a government bank and the tiny houses that the audience gets to peep into. “All credit goes to the Maharashtrians on set,” says Kashyap, adding that the only two instances of cheating were having Roshan play a Tamilian and another Maharashtrian that essays a South Indian character. “The choices of colours and almost everything came from a great team. I only intervened when I had to say no to something. Everything was on a platter for me,” beams the director.

Personally speaking

For Mathew, the lure of the film lay in his flawed character, who is resentful of his life but does little to change his circumstances. “It’s not individual moments of something he did, but what he doesn’t do,” says Mathew. “It’s about fighting a potato way of life.” The backdrop of demonetisation too particularly resonated with his own experiences. His film, Aanandam, released a few days before the demonetisation of all ₹500 and ₹1,000 banknotes. “This was my third film and it was doing really well in the first week,” reveals the 28-year-old actor. “It was supposed to be a career-maker but people didn’t have money and loose change to buy tickets for the film so it suddenly started not doing well anymore. It was a really stressful time.”

While almost everything was analysed and disseminated in a thorough script, Kashyap found himself coming on set simply to execute Bhave’s vision. Except that is, for the film’s climax. “We kept trying to rewrite the end. The film wasn’t supposed to be about demonetisation. [Bhave] rejected all ten versions of what I wrote and finally came up with something different altogether,” says the director, revealing that he tried to emulate a certain prolific director’s dedication to the Maharashtrian aesthetic. If Katha (1983) had to be a thriller, what would that be like? “That’s what Choked would be, a Sai Paranjpye thriller directed by me,” laughs Kashyap.

Choked is streaming now on Netflix

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Printable version | Aug 9, 2020 1:48:24 PM |

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