Anurag Kashyap's Womaniyas: Ahead of Choked, a look at the filmmaker's compelling presentation of female characters
After Manmarziyaan, Lust Stories, and Ghost Stories, Anurag Kashyap is back to tell another woman's story in Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, starring Saiyami Kher.
Anurag Kashyap's signature genre of gangster films was notorious for painting a big, bad man's world, which had little or no space for women. But in recent years, one has witnessed an Anurag Kashyap who is more inclined towards telling women's stories. He has been collaborating with women writers and giving female actors the scope they deserve to display their potential on screen. His next attempt at unpacking a woman's story is Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, where Saiyami Kher's character, a government banker, discovers an unlikely source of income as a relief from her husband's lack of monetary support.
Choked sounds like an extraordinary story of an everywoman. But there was a time when Kashyap's films did not transcend their hyper masculinity. His most popular films yet, Black Friday (2004) and Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), were so testosterone-charged that they felt like the antithesis to chick flicks.
A remake of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay's Devdas, Dev.D hovered around a flawed male protagonist. But unlike the previous adaptations, the two women in his life were not projected as the gold standard of chastity and sacrifice. Mahie Gill and Kalki Koechlin, who played Paro and
Chandramukhi Chanda respectively, were fascinating women. Their sexuality was never brushed under the carpet yet the exhibition was never gratuitous; it was done to complement the strength of their character.
Unlike the Paro from the previous adaptation, Mahie was introduced in a scene where she sends nudes to Abhay Deol's character (this was not as convenient as it is now. One had to obtain hard copies from a cyber cafe, and then courier these to the remote destination. Phew). Though she indulged in adultery by sleeping with Dev after her marriage, she did so as a 'friendly favour' to a man on the brink of obliteration.
Chanda was not raining poetry on Devdas like Madhuri Dixit in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's adaptation. She related to her bleeding heart but never once romanticised the self-destructive streak in Dev. Kalki, like Mahie, debuted with Dev.D, and went on to do Kashyap's only theatrical release with a female protagonist, That Girl In Yellow Boots.
As this writer put it in his retrospective of Dev.D when the film completed 10 years in 2009, "Another unique aspect about Dev.D, apart from depicting its heroines as sexually liberated women, was that it did so in a male-led film."
Womaniya of Wasseypur
History repeated itself in fresh textures with Gangs of Wasseypur. Two women made their presence felt, in completely different ways. Richa Chadha's Nagma Khatoon was depicted as a victim of male sexual desire and control. Manoj Bajpayee's Sardar Khan would end up making his wife Nagma pregnant several times out of his tendency to assert his superiority as the 'man of the house'. Nagma's frustration was given a short-lived but satisfying outlet when she blasted Sardar for not realising his random sexual adventures lead to life-altering changes in his wife's life. She also contemplated drifting towards his uncle (Piyush Mishra) though that never panned out.
Huma Qureshi made her debut with Gangs of Wasseypur as Mohsina Hamid. Years before Amitabh Bachchan preached "No means no" in Aniruddha Roy Choudhary's 2016 courtroom drama Pink, Mohsina imparted to men the much-needed lesson on consent. In a hilarious scene, when her man Faizal Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) held her hand, she chided him for crossing the line without her consent. "Permissan liye aap? she asked in her inimitable style, catching the dreaded gangster by surprise. The otherwise rabble-rousing don was stumped for words in front of Mohsina.
Along with these characters, Kashyap pushed the needle in Gangs of Wasseypur with Sneha Khanwalkar as his choice of music composer.
The defining moments
2018 was a watershed year for Kashyap, as he ventured into alleys he had left unexplored. He was one of the first ones from India to foray into streaming platforms. That allowed him to tell stories of people ranging across classes, religious backgrounds, and gender. But this also coincided with his collaboration with Kanika Dhillon in Manmarziyaan.
Kanika was not only the first woman writer he worked with but also the first co-writer he teamed up with. Prior to Manmarziyaan, he had written almost all his films by himself. Manmarziyaan was the first venture that fell in his lap, when producer Aanand L Rai offered him to direct a romantic film that was penned by Kanika, and initially supposed to be helmed by another filmmaker.
Kashyap took the challenge head on, but without diluting the essence of Kanika's story. He did not let either of the male characters Vicky (Vicky Kaushal) or Robbie (Abhishek Bachchan) get the better of what was primarily Rumi's story. With his keen ability to add colours to grey, he made Taapsee Pannu's Rumi both complex and straitjacketed. The ache of a woman who loved too strongly was evident throughout the film, and was accentuated by Amit Trivedi's brilliant compositions like 'Saadi Sachchi Mohabbat'.
In the same year, he adapted Vikram Chandra's novel Sacred Games for Netflix India. The show put Indian content on the global map as it was the same area where Kashyap thrived the most — gangsters, guns, cops, Mumbai underworld. But a longer format allowed him to breathe life into women characters despite their less screen-time.
Out of the many women, Cuckoo (Kubra Sait) was unarguably the most memorable. A love interest and arm candy of don Ganesh Gaitonde (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Cuckoo was always shown as an unattainable object of desire. And then the mystique gradually gave in to a grand reveal, when Cuckoo confessed she is transgender. Her sexuality could not deter her from becoming the centre of undivided male attention.
Later in the year, Kashyap had yet another female character, who also carried the film on her shoulders. In Netflix India anthology Lust Stories, Radhika Apte led Kashyap's short film. She played Kalindi, a college professor who is dating her student Tejas (Akash Thosar). She often crosses the line but explains her actions like she is breaking down a concept to an imaginary class, by breaking the fourth wall. Kalindi was messy and intrusive yet the fact that Radhika was also involved as a co-writer on the film, never pushed her character from the edge, and made her go the harmful stalker way.
Kashyap followed up on his brigade of fascinating women protagonists with his most recent directorial, another short in Netflix Original anthology Ghost Stories. He co-wrote his short film with Isha Luthra, and they fashioned an intriguing character in Sobhita Dhulipala's Neha, a woman who has suffered several miscarriages and desperately wants to be a mother again, yet is pulled back by an otherworldly force. While interacting with this writer, Kashyap had said during the promotion of Ghost Stories, "Losing a child is nothing short of a 'horror' in a woman's life. I wanted to translate that horror into a psychological force with this film. Isha's script was brilliant to begin with. She's a 22-year-old who has expressed the loss of a chance at motherhood with such pain. I wonder how she did that."
Of all the people, Anurag Kashyap would know that is what storytelling stands for — laying bare open the lives one may never relate with, yet cannot help but feel for.
Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai will release this Friday on Netflix.
All images from YouTube.
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