The filmmaker gets reflective in this conversation that explores the many facets of his latest film, Choked, that’s out on Netflix
Anurag Kashyap‘s latest film, Choked, is now out on Netflix. It’s a film that speaks of many types of deprivation: of cash, love and aspirations. As you can imagine, it’s also politically charged — with demonetisation featuring at its very centre. Here’s Anurag himself discussing the many facets of this film, including the couple at its heart — a woman haunted by her trauma, and a man who has trouble living up to his role as defined by society.
Choked is a film quite contained in terms of location, and the life of the couple at its centre. At one point, the wife, Saritha, expresses annoyance over something as trivial and yet, relatably irksome as an empty water bottle. Tell me what it’s like to balance these mundane details whilst in the pursuit of a larger goal.
It helps that Choked is an intimate film. Unlike my other films, it doesn’t travel too much. In a film like this, the smaller details become more significant—they become bigger. The minor details matter here because this is a film about a relationship between four walls. It’s about domesticity, it’s about marriage. In a Black Friday, the details may not be as many, and they would be of a different kind. When the life shown in a film is mundane, then mundanity becomes important to the film.
I quite enjoyed the complexity of Saritha (Saiyami Kher) in this film. You mentioned in a recent interview that Martin Scorcese’s Casino changed the way you thought about how women characters must be written—and how it’s important to write them as layered, complex people, instead of the idealised versions we often get in cinema.
Some of my favourite fictional women include Sharon Stone’s character in Casino (1995), Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage (1935), Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)… These are some of my favourite characters of all time. In our cinema, we have this piety and purity that’s thrust on women characters. I find it to be offputting—and vulgar. This girl next door they talk of, I find her to be boring. I like flawed people and think they are more human. I would much rather be around them. In fact, if someone talks of this super-nice person, I don’t exactly see that as being an attractive trait. As humans, we need to own our flaws and live with them. Look at Sharon Stone in Casino. She is so flawed. She is vulnerable, and she has someone who gives her everything, and yet, she betrays him. Look also at how fearless she is, how she survives. She’s fascinating. These are aspects that attract me to a woman. In Choked, Saritha discusses her trauma only towards the end. That’s when she drops this façade of strength, and becomes human. It’s her entire journey through the film.
I understand that the script of Choked was written well before demonetisation, a topic that plays an important part in this film. Tell me about weaving that angle into this story.
When I first read the script in 2015, this was a story that had many engrossing elements: Money coming out of the drain, a rocky marriage, a politician living upstairs… It felt like magical realism. And yet, somehow, it didn’t seem like it was all coming together. I felt the script could go beyond these ideas. And then, demonetisation happened. It took me about three-four months to have a perspective on it, and suggested to Nihit (Nihit Bhave, the writer) that we build this story about demonetisation. There was then the temptation of bringing my politics into this film. However, I didn’t succumb. The politics of the characters in Choked aren’t dictated by their ideologies; they are dictated by their lives and struggles. I believe that an answer through cinema to propaganda becomes reverse propaganda. We must stick to discussing facts. I think this is why Black Friday felt honest. I was naïve then, and it’s important for a storyteller to retain that naivete. Now, I’m politically aware, and have the privilege of access to information and misinformation. I have people giving me a perspective on various topics, and so, it’s more challenging to retain that honesty in writing.
For the remainder of this interview (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), please visit https://www.cinemaexpress.com/stories/interviews/2020/jun/12/anurag-kashyap-i-need-to-step-out-of-bombay-18888.html