The film begins in October 2016 in Mumbai, a month before PM Modi announced the demonetisation of high value currency notes.

Sarita in Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai
Flix Review Friday, June 05, 2020 - 12:30
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Sarita is like millions of Indian women who have to do it all – work at home and work in their office, with no time for rest or relaxation. Her husband, Sushant, sits around all day doing nothing, shamefaced about Sarita having to pick up his slack but thick-skinned enough to maintain the status quo. The drain in their kitchen is a point of conflict. It gurgles, it chokes, it spills out water into the kitchen... it’s a curse, until it’s not.

Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, directed by Anurag Kashyap and written by Nihit Bhave, is now streaming on Netflix. The film begins in October 2016 in Mumbai, a month before PM Modi announced the demonetisation of high value currency notes. It’s an imaginative little story about imaginative little people. Sarita and Sushant (she’s Maharashtrian, he’s Tamilian), we learn, were reality TV contestants. They were doing great until Sarita messed it up onstage. That’s one part of the meaning that the title carries. The other refers to the drain. And perhaps there’s yet another layer – what happens to people when they are choked with responsibilities? What gives? Does the money speak above the din of their humdrum existence?

Sarita, played by a stunning Saiyami Kher, is quietly assertive. The actor is entirely believable in the middle-class home, rustling up food for the family, taking care of their son Sameer, travelling by train to the bank where she works, and returning exhausted to their house where she yet again has to keep the cycle going. Sarita leads a Sisyphean life and Saiyami’s expressive green eyes register her frustration, anger, and disappointment with herself.

I felt like snapping at Sushant myself, which goes to show how well Roshan Mathew has played the role. The script thankfully does not romanticise or indulge his “artistic” temperament. At one point, he’s upset that Sarita has kept the little jar with vermilion on the flush tank in the toilet. She merely tells him that she feels it’s a totally appropriate place for the jar. The conversations between the couple, from the barbs they trade with each other to full-blown arguments and the rare smiles that they exchange feel very real. It’s a marriage in a storm that’s been raging for so long they have made it the normal. If I had to quibble, it would be that as someone who knows Tamil and Malayalam, I could figure out that Roshan’s accent is distinctly more Malayali than Tamilian.

The film also builds up a beautiful give-and-take network among Sarita and the women in her building. When her neighbour (a superb Amruta Subhash) has guests over for a wedding, she accommodates several of them in Sarita’s house without any forewarning. The women turn to each other when they need help, but it isn’t as if they don’t have their share of secrets or gossip. The cramped spaces, the practical lighting, the camera following Sarita through the hustle and bustle on the train platforms and roads as she returns to her family, all build a close sense of what home means and the struggle to keep it afloat. The ordinariness of the whole thing is what makes Sarita’s secret even more delicious. And perhaps this is why the way in which the knot with the moneylender is settled seems a tad filmy in this otherwise realistic domestic thriller. Karsh Kale’s background score adds to the suspense with the gurgling drain and Sarita’s suffocating nightmares.

With mainstream Bollywood cinema pandering to the BJP and its policies in big budget films, Choked is refreshing in its treatment. There are no long speeches by any of the characters to underline the point. The humour in these scenes is cleverly done, making it difficult for anybody to accuse the makers of spreading misinformation or propaganda (it’s another thing that they will be accused of this anyway). The screenplay towards the end feels rushed; the reveal is interesting and surprising, but needed more fleshing out.

Overall though, Choked is a bizarre story told well – the fallout of a bizarre decision, the story of which the government is still trying to tell well.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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