Mumbai, 06 Jun 2020 12:52 IST
The film is set in the period when prime minister Narendra Modi announced demonetization of high-value currency notes, using it as a story device.
The verb, to choke, has two meanings. One is to fail to grab a well-presented opportunity, usually because of a sudden lack of confidence. The second, of course, is to block a passage. Both meanings suit this Anurag Kashyap film.
Choked is a drama about a woman, Sarita Pillai (Saiyami Kher), who feels, well, choked by her monotonous life. Sarita is a public-sector bank employee and sole breadwinner in a family of three, which includes her husband and their son. The husband Sushant (Roshan Mathew) is an unemployed musician. The family's financial strain is taking a toll of their relationship as Sushant keeps quitting one job after another.
The family lives in a cramped apartment in a rundown building in Mumbai with nosy neighbours played by Amruta Subhash, Rajshri Deshpande and Uday Nene. Choked begins in October 2016, just a month before prime minister Narendra Modi's surprise decision to demonetize high-value currency notes, which plays an important part in the film.
The weight of a failing marriage and the frustration of a lost opportunity to become a professional singer are slowly dragging Sarita down. But as they say, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel, and Sarita finds her light as well, not in a tunnel but in her choked kitchen sink.
Turns out that someone has been using the building's drainage system to stash away money. Sarita decides to help herself to some of it. Finally, things begin to look up for the Pillais. She starts spending money to buy things that she had always wished to buy, such as cushions and a new crockery set. But her luck runs out at 8pm on 8 November 2016 when Modi makes his historic announcement.
Anurag Kashyap loves to explore the darker side of human nature and here, too, he takes us through various shades of the female protagonist as she wrestles with her own moral code. The filmmaker introduces the plot device of demonetization about halfway through the movie. Till then, it is presented as a family drama about a couple going through a rough patch, both financial and emotional.
Sarita's only relief is her neighbour Sharvani, played brilliantly by Amruta Subhash. Sarita vents the frustration of her failed dream of becoming a singer and the financial strain she is going through to Sharvani.
While this portion is not boring, one can't help but wonder what the point of it all is.
But once Modi announces his demonetization decision, the film shifts gears. Kashyap and writer Nihit Bhave have used the move smartly in the film. Demonetization, allegedly meant to hit those with ill-gotten hoards of wealth, had hit instead millions of Indians from the poorer sections.
But when the decision is announced, Sushant and other members of their housing society break into dance, successfully capturing the euphoria among gullible people at the time. That scene is juxtaposed with news clips of people standing in queues for hours on end to withdraw their own hard-earned money.
Saiyami Kher, who has thus far appeared in one Hindi and one Marathi film, gets to be in the driving seat for the first time. She plays a middle-aged middle-class woman with not a shred of glamour to her character. The film rests entirely on her shoulders as Roshan Mathew plays second fiddle most of the time, both in the plot and in the film.
Kher essays perfectly Sarita's gradual change of character as she becomes more assertive and the balance of power in her relationship with her husband tilts towards her with each bundle of currency that she pulls out of the drain.
Roshan Mathew delivers a mature performance as a husband who is battling his own insecurities and feels helpless as his wife starts asserting her power in their relationship. He vents the frustration of his own failed career as he cheers and dances when demonetization is announced. It's as if there is a hidden agenda behind his frantic celebration — if he can't earn money, he can at least enjoy others losing out on their money.
While Choked gets everything perfect in terms of casting, it loses marks in the script department. The film starts so slowly as to test your patience in the first half. Even in the second half, once the film has shown the impact of demonetization on the middle class and on Sarita, it starts to drag again. Also, the emotional angle before the climax doesn't hit you as much as the makers might have liked it to, though the film gets back on track in the final 10 minutes.
Another thing that might put off some ardent Kashyap fans is the film's general lighter tone. Despite commenting on a serious topical issue like demonetization, the filmmaker has restrained himself from going down the darker path. One just gets the feeling that he missed an opportunity to explore the true socio-economic impact of the move. The film only scratches the surface of the issue and remains a decent attempt at exploring the deteriorating relationship between a wife and her husband in the backdrop of demonetization.
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