06 Jun 2020
'Choked' movie review: A rocky and restrained drama on demonetization
Written bySagar Malik
Anurag Kashyap's latest film Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, streaming now on Netflix, marks many a firsts. For instance, it is perhaps the first mainstream movie set against the backdrop of 2016 demonetization drive, and is the director's first full-length feature film for Netflix.
Despite that, it happens to be one of those rare films from him, that lacks imagination and newness.
Here's our review.
An ill-fated bank cashier finds an unlimited source of money
The film is set in 2016.
Sarita Pillai (Saiyami Kher) is a diligent, but weary and ill-starred cashier at a bank.
At home, she is either cleaning up the mess or tending to the needs of her young son and jobless husband.
But things seem to start changing when she discovers a shady source of apparently unlimited cash right under her clogged kitchen sink.
Broken dreams, and a flailing marriage set the tone
Sarita finds herself weighed down by her broken dreams of becoming a singer, and the monotony of her mediocre bank job.
On top of that, her husband, Sushant (Roshan Mathew) spends his time playing carrom and picking up fights with the neighbors, rather than going out to find a job.
Obviously, the marriage is flailing, thanks to the endless desperation and hopelessness.
The film grips you, only to let go
Choked will grip you, in some parts.
The idea of finding free cash anywhere is a fascinating idea, both for the protagonist as well as the viewer. And the suspenseful and thrilling background score adds to it.
But that grip is utterly short-lived. The narrative remains inconsistent and loses its hold too soon and too often, making you wanting for more throughout its run.
The daunting era of demonetization comes alive, once again
Halfway through Choked, the demonetization announcement happens.
The daunting era of anxieties and worries comes alive, fortunately this time only on the screen.
Kashyap uses real footage of people queuing outside the banks and ATM booths to get hold of the renewed currency. Some are seen taking selfies with the new notes, and asking the bank employees, if they come with "microchips".
The note-ban angle becomes a distraction, rather than a catalyst
Sadly though, Choked soon starts to feel a different film altogether.
The demonetization angle feels mismatched with the screenplay, just like it was in real life. That happens because it is neither too subtle nor fully explored.
In fact, the deliberate desire to criticize the move eventually makes the part burdening, almost a distraction rather than a catalyst in the larger scheme of storytelling.
Kashyap pulls the brakes a little harder on this one
There is also an evident sense of restraint throughout the narrative of Choked.
It feels like the makers are a little too afraid that the movie may end up becoming a Twitter debate in the aftermath of demonetization.
But that forced restraint strips the film of its actual potential.
Given his history, this isn't Kashyap at his top gear, it's the filmmaker's lite version.
Saiyami Kher puts a mature and nuanced performance
Perhaps the biggest win for Choked is its nuanced and memorable performances from a relatively younger cast.
Kashyap manages to make his actors push to their best, and it shows.
Saiyami Kher, who made her Hindi movie debut with Mirzya, does the heavy lifting in this one. Her portrayal of a desperate middle-class woman proves she is surely maturing as an actor.
Roshan Mathew makes a spectacular Hindi debut
Malayalam actor Roshan Mathew makes his Hindi movie debut with Choked. But it feels surprising, as he is so at ease and convincing with his portrayal.
There are no loose ends to his performance as a failed musician, who is perpetually loitering around, frustrated with himself as well as those around him.
Don't be surprised if you see more of him in near future.
To watch or not to watch?
Nobody sets the bar for a filmmaker like Anurag Kashyap. The man does it for himself. But he also brings the bar down from time to time, and lately, that has been happening a little too often.
If you are a Kashyap fan, you are in for a disappointment.
But Choked is still worth a chance for its inspired performances.
Final rating: 2.5/5 stars.