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Choked Review: Saiyami Kher Anchors This Subdued Anurag Kashyap Netflix Drama

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Director: Anurag Kashyap

Cast: Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew, Amruta Subhash

Set in the backdrop of demonetisation,  Anurag Kashyap‘s Choked explores the life of a young couple that is trying to cope with its broken dreams and disappointments in life. Saiyami Kher, who plays the central character Saritha, weaves magic through her eyes which speak the story of the world it is set in. Nothing seems too bright, and happiness is a luxury because everyday people are constantly reminded of their burdens.

The dark circles under her eyes are visible proof of the sleepless nights she spends wondering about the family’s future, and how she stares blankly, and often coldly, at the world around her is proof of how bereft of hope and joy she is. Her singular moment of joy appears when she finds bundles of notes oozing out of her kitchen sink.

The person who lives in the apartment above hers has been throwing money down the drain, which chokes the pipes, but it turns out to be a blessing for Saritha, who has often found herself Choked by her failures and broken dreams in life. It’s a beautiful allegory about life in a metropolis when things always seem to go downhill, and there’s a flicker of hope every now and then.

This is a story about a lower middle-class family. Saritha works as a cashier in a bank and is the sole breadwinner of the family. Her husband, Sushant (Roshan Mathew) is a struggling musician and his attempts to run any business almost always seem to end up I causing loss. He doesn’t talk about his fumbling career with his wife, and is upset that his friends taunt him calling him the ‘wife’ in his household.

As Saritha contemplates her relationship with Sushant, and her own job, both bereft of life or excitement, she chances upon an unlikely source of money right in the middle of demonetisation.

Written by Nihit Bhave, the film delves into the lives of people who seem to be on the cusp of something big, but luck evades them. And when they finally get a chance to become rich quickly, luck evades them again because, it turns out, they are forced to choose between greed and honesty, and honesty comes at a big price.

Almost every day, Saritha is frustrated that her husband, Sushant, doesn’t share the workload at home, but she refrains from an outburst. This pent-up anger and frustration creates a wedge between the two, even as Sushant tries to mend his ways and prove that he’s still worthy of her respect.

The two bicker over their depleting finances, and each blames the other one for their troubles without truly deliberating upon the way out. There’s a beautiful sequence towards the end of the film where Saritha breaks down because her big chance of getting out of her misery has gone down the drain.

You empathise with her fate so much that everything that she had done, like buying new things with money that’s not hers, doesn’t feel like it was morally wrong. It makes you wonder if life itself is a cruel joke because it snatches away everything from people just when things seem to be going well.

Like the many themes the story explores, the film itself straddles between what it wants to say and how it says it. It wants to be a thriller while trying to be a moving drama about relationships. The aspect of demonetisation, that’s so central to the storytelling, is at best a metaphor for hope in the protagonist’s life, even if it leads to more stress in her life on a daily basis.

Choked, like the title suggests, wants to say so much but doesn’t say everything. Like the viewers, the characters too seem to be waiting for something big to happen in their lives, but there’s no such thing. Maybe that’s the whole point of the story.

The casting of the film is top notch and the performances are consistently good. Amruta Subhash, who plays Saritha’s neighbour and confidant, is terrific. She empathises with Saritha, and doesn’t hesitate to rebuke Sushant. Then, there’s Roshan Mathew who delivers a strong performance as a man struggling to take control of his life.

Sushant’s ego and frustration are immense, but even he knows that his wife, Saritha has an upper hand because she’s running the family. The star of the film is, undoubtedly, Saiyami Kher, who channelises the hopes and frustration of the character quite brilliantly. And she just keeps better as the narrative progresses and takes you by surprise.

Choked is often understated and one can’t help but wonder if this too is Anurag Kashyap’s conscious effort to do something different. The way he and Nihit Bhave have envisioned the characters and the world that they inhabit is better than the narrative itself. And on top of it, there are long stretches where the music feels more like a distraction. However, Sylvester Fonseca’s cinematography is top notch and the visual tone compliments the characters and their lives really well.

At a runtime of just under two hours, Choked has an interesting story to tell, but it leaves you wanting something more. Saiyami Kher’s performance leaves you guessing about what could be brewing in her mind all the time. And in doing so, she symbolises the working class of a metropolis where the struggle for survival is as real as the buildings which always seem to be under maintenance.

The Choked review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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