Anurag Kashyap, Saiyami Kher, Roshan Mathew on how they designed Netflix film Choked as a 'Sai Paranjpe thriller'
Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai revolved around the issues of a Maharashtrian couple (Saiyami Kher and Roshan Mathew), till the wife discovers an unlikely source of income.
Anurag Kashyap, best known for his intense dramas and blunt portrayal of harsh realities of society, is eagerly looking forward to his next, Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, an intriguing thriller in collaboration with the streaming giant Netflix, starring Saiyami Kher and Roshan Mathew in lead roles.
Set against the backdrop of demonetisation, the film showcases the daily struggles of a strong-headed, middle-class woman, who is shown balancing work and home, and how life surprises her with an influx of cash, at the most unexpected time and place. The film is directed and produced by Kashyap under his new production company Good Bad Films, and it is slated to release this Friday on 5 June.
“It is the warmest film I have ever made but the idea is not mine. Nihit Bhave is my writer. We wanted to tell the story of this couple in love. This is the script that Phantom (Films) bought at FICCI in 2015,” says Kashyap about the story presented by Bhave at FICCI Frames’ Script Bazaar. “One-and-a-half years after we acquired the script, demonetisation happened, and only then the idea became relevant,” he adds.
The film explores the journey of Kher's character Sarita Sahasrabudhe, who, in the trailer, is seen facing plumbing issues at her Mumbai apartment. Further, she discovers currency notes wrapped up in small plastic bags in a drain pipe, bubbling up her sink, night after night. This sends her life into a tailspin, as she starts spending the cash to pay off her husband’s debts. But then demonetisation strikes, Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes are scrapped, and Sarita soon finds herself in a sticky situation. Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai also stars Amruta Subhash and Rajshri Deshpande.
“Earlier, it was a film about greed, about marriage, and it was about money coming from the bathroom sink. It was more of an absurdist idea but an emotional tale. I always felt that everything is there yet something is missing in the story. Nihit kept writing and rewriting, and then demonetisation happened. I told Nihit that now the film makes sense. We couldn’t have brought in demonetisation just as a token thing. It brought a lot of changes in the script, and Nihit rewrote the whole of second half. The story also expanded from Sarita to her neighbour Sharwari tai, and other people living in the building. But we wanted to focus on Sarita because we are telling her story from her point of view,” says Kashyap.
Kher, who debuted with Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Mirzya (2016), and was recently seen in Neeraj Pandey’s Hotstar Special thriller show Special Ops, was initially quite nervous working with Kashyap "because he wanted zero rehearsals". “There was a lot in the character which I connected to, and a lot I didn’t. Playing a mother much older than what I am, were little things which I was worried about but what made me extremely nervous was Anurag’s style of zero rehearsals. We had just one reading, and he tells me, ‘Why do you want to do this reading? We will do it on set. Don’t take tension.' We had zero prep whereas for my previous film with Rakeysh sir, we had six months of reading and at least 18 costume tests. It was a very different school of working with Anurag, and it was straight diving into what it was. But that also helped in a big way,” says Kher.
“Every actor draws for a character from their own life in some way. I have faced struggles, failures…so I drew all that from my life to play Sarita. Otherwise Anurag’s style of working is keeping it simple. He says that you actors make it so complicated, it is not complex at all. I completely surrendered to my director, and, of course, Nihit’s writing made life much easier,” she adds.
Further, for her reference point to portray an overworked, middle-class woman stuck in a monotonous bank job, Kher drew from her many visits to a bank in Nashik. “I lost my grandmother eight months before I started the shoot. I live in Nashik, and I used to keep going to Bank of Maharashtra to get her pension and some of her stuff out of the bank. I would spend lot of time there, and there was one particular lady who was seen annoyed with the customers. She was probably overworked. I would sit back and watch, and wonder how her life must be so monotonous and frustrating. I talked to her and figured out what was the situation like during demonetisation. She told me about the difficulties and frustrations of people who worked in banks, and how life was particularly difficult during the demonetisation phase, and that conversation really helped me,” says Kher.
Mollywood actor Roshan Mathew (who plays Kher’s screen husband) is all set to mark his Hindi film debut with Choked. He was last seen on the big screen in Kappela, and before that, he was lauded for his performance as a deaf-mute in the Geethu Mohandas-directed Moothon, co-produced by Kashyap, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. In Choked, Mathew plays Sushant Pillai, who aspires to make it big as a musician, and is seen coping with his failure, insecurities, and power-play. “Sushant was supremely exciting to play. It is a lot like playing out your worst nightmare. I did the same thing what Sushant did. I took the plunge as an artist with no one to really hold your hand. And then your worst nightmare is not making it, being a victim to your own insecurities, and not being able to enjoy even the good things in life. He is married to the girl that he was in love with. He has her as a companion but he was not even able to enjoy that anymore because everything else that he wanted has not come to him, and he has accepted failure. It is a scenario that you run in your head many times as the worst possible outcome of your every decision you have made in your life, and playing that out was fun,” says Mathew. “I wasn’t directly in contact with Anurag but I was surprised when he gave me a call after seeing my performance in Moothon at the editing table. It started with him saying, 'I really liked your performance in Moothon.' I was very happy, obviously. He said, 'Where are you from, and why I don’t know you,' and in my head, I was thinking, 'How would you know me. I know you. I am just some actor,'"says Mathew, laughing.
A plot-driven film, most of the action in Choked happens in a poky apartment in Mumbai. “The exterior was shot in Bandra (in Mumbai) but the interior is a set. "We had to create a set because those buildings in Mumbai are very old, and nobody could take guarantee that they won’t fall down if too many people are in there. We created a set of a house in Filmistan Studio, and it was shot on a green screen, which you won’t be able to see. It was my production designer’s idea to create a set though I am very uncomfortable on a set. I don’t feel at home on a set. I had to do a lot of yoga to stay calm to be able to adapt to shooting on a set,” laughs Kashyap.
However, the biggest challenge for Kashyap was to make the film believable. “If I don’t buy into the idea I can’t sell the idea. After buying into the idea, you have to believe in every moment because it is so absurd — the money coming from the sink, the drain. The team had to sit down, and actually make an engineering map of it, say if the money is hidden here then this is how it will go down, and when it drops down, who are the first people to get it. So we had to give it a thought scientifically, and hence, the script kept changing,” says the director, who describes the film as a "Sai Paranjape thriller".
He continues, “In my head it was, how do you make this film. So when I was sitting with the team, I told everyone that this film should be made the way Sai Paranjape would make a thriller. When you see her movies, say, when you watch Katha, these are her people, her characters, her world.
Right from my production designer to my cinematographer to my second unit director to my writer to actors ... Saiyami, Amruta, Rajshri… everybody who knows that middle-class Maharastrian household, I entered the world through them.”
Choked may not be a political film but politics is subtly woven into it. Kashyap, who's known for his strong political views on social media, made sure that his ideologies and politics don't seep into the film, or the characters. But considering the various perceptions that people have about him, Kashyap is anxious about people’s response to Choked. “I want to see all kinds of reactions because some people think that I have made a political film, some think that it is dark. I am sure some would wonder how come there is no cuss work, nobody dies. I am dying to see the reaction. But I really loved making this film, and putting it together. The final result is most satisfactory for me because for the first time, I made a film the way a film should be made with the right amount of money spent in the right places. What has come out is just so beautiful that even my sharpest and harshest critics would love the film (laughs heartily). Fans are also not so disappointed... okay, it is not as dark and edgy as you would say, still it is such a fun film. The best thing is that everybody in my family has loved it. My family also cannot stand my films sometimes,” he laughs.
Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai marks Kashyap's fourth collaboration with Netflix India. He has previously directed a short for the anthology films Lust Stories, and two seasons of an adaptation of Vikram Chandra's book Sacred Games. Recently, he helmed a short in the horror anthology film Ghost Stories.
All images from Netflix.
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