Love story in demonetisation era: Actors Saiyami and Roshan speak on 'Choked'

The lead actors speak about their characters and what it was like to work with Anurag Kashyap.
Choked film poster
Choked film poster
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In the trailer of Choked, a Hindi Netflix film which will release on June 5, you see a woman clutching a bus-strap, rushing between a bank job and a family of three, a tired look on her face. It is Sarita Pillai’s story, the film - her hardship, struggles to make ends meet as a middle class woman living in Mumbai, with a husband and son dependent on her.

Both Saiyami Kher, playing Sarita, and Roshan Mathew, playing the husband, confirm that this is so. In two separate interviews to TNM, the actors speak about the film and its beloved director Anurag Kashyap.

“Writers writing such a strong part for a woman – it does happen these days. And there is no one better than AK to capture the struggles of this mundane middle class life,” Saiyami says.

Roshan says, “I would like to call it a domestic thriller because it is a thriller set in a house, where the husband and wife and son live together, leading not very happy lives. Basically, it is the wife’s story. It begins from the breadwinner of a financially challenged family beginning to find money in the drainpipe.”

Money in the drainpipe – that is perhaps the quickest gist of what to expect of the film – sounding at once funny and thrilling. From the mundane, it jumps shades to a life of excitement, or so you imagine. The trailer reveals that much – rolls of currency notes tucked into plastic covers that fall out of a broken plumbing system and into Sarita’s hands.

And then you hear the 2016 announcement of the note ban – when Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the ban of 500 and 1000 rupee notes. In the trailer, a smiling Sushant – Roshan – appreciates the move.

“Sushant is a failed musician. He is too young to have decided that he has failed but he had moved to Mumbai from the south, with a lot of dreams and promise,” Roshan says.

Roshan knew his Hindi, so that part didn’t bother him. But he was at first surprised that he was to play the dad of a six-year-old. He didn’t think he was old enough or looked like someone who could have a six-year old child. “But everyone else was surprised when I asked that question. They said I could easily pass for a dad. I took it as a good thing and tried not to be offended because it helped my case at that point,” he chuckles.

His character is the sort of guy whom everyone around had said would one day become a star. But that didn’t happen and he is really weighed down by the failure. “He has become dependent on his wife, and feels extremely insecure,” Roshan says.

A poster of Choked

Saiyami calls Sushant’s character ‘a no good person, who does nothing’. “And then we see the angle of demonetisation which has been put so beautifully. It is not the crux of the film but it is beautifully put. For me it’s never just the character (I play). If the script excites me, even if it is a small part I play, I am very happy to do it. The project should work, not just your part,” she says.

She had just done Mirzya, her first film, directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra when she met Anurag Kashyap for the first time. She met him again at the Mumbai International Film Festival one year, when he sat next to her for a screening. “Mirzya had not done so well at the box office and there weren’t any producers who wanted to back me. I waited a long time for something to come along when, randomly watching a film at MAMI, I saw AK sitting next to me. He asked me, ‘picture karegi?’ (will you do a film).”

She read the script for Choked in a day and asked him ‘when could they start, tomorrow?’ Anurag told her more details – this was a film that was going to deglamourise her and she’d need to play a woman older than her real age. “Factors,” he said, “that commercial film actors wouldn’t prefer.”

But Saiyami was game and waited two long years for the film to happen while Anurag finished other projects as Sacred Games – another Netfilx project – and Manmarziyaan. He told her when he found Roshan from the sets of Moothon, a Malayalam film directed by Geetu Mohandas that Anurag co-produced with others.

Roshan says, “AK is a very chill guy. I was staying with him at his house while we were shooting (Choked). This man whose work you have admired for a long time suddenly becomes your flat mate. I shared with AK some of my most comfortable silences in life,” Roshan says.

Roshan and Saiyami with Anurag Kashyap

He is a director who works without limits and has a clear vision ‘that he doesn’t necessarily share with all of you’, Roshan says. “You are expected to do your part of the job and do it fully. He doesn’t want you to worry about the rest. He wants you to really be in the moment for whichever scene is happening. There is a lot of scope for improvisation, in terms of freedom, in terms of how you want to approach it. He loves it when you do something unexpected.”

Saiyami says it is like he turns into a child on the set. “He is so excited that he is literally jumping around on the set. It was completely different from what I thought him to be. I thought him to be this intense, brooding person, this dark filmmaker. That’s not who he is, he keeps it so simple. He doesn’t believe in rehearsals and is very spontaneous. He is a complete genius who has edited the film in his head and knows where to stop and what he wants very clearly. He is also the biggest multi-tasker I know. While directing Choked, he finished writing two other scripts, acted in two films, edited one and I don’t know what else he did,” she says.

In her mind there is no one better to capture the struggles of a middle class family living in Mumbai. “It is also a very beautiful love story woven in the backdrop of a political situation that took place in our country. I would say it is quintessentially a love story and then it is everything else.”

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