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Netflix’s Choked Doesn’t Do Justice To Its Relatable Female Protagonist

Choked review, nso report indian women housework

At the crux of Netflix’s Choked is a housing society’s sewage system that spews bundles of notes: a literal interpretation of dirty money. Sarita (Saiyami Kher) the protagonist of this Anurag Kashyap film has to step into filthy water every night to retrieve packets of black money that her kitchen’s choked drain spews in the dead of the night, unfailingly. It is a very interesting premise. But apart from a novel premise, Choked is also about a woman who has stopped dreaming of a better life, is stuck in a frustrating marriage marred by financial crunch, and eventually has to sit in a cage every day to deal with hoards of people turning up at the bank after demonetization.

Everyday woman leads the film

Sarita will remind you of that working middle-class woman we all know. Someone you see hurrying across the platform to catch the local in her cotton saree. The woman who haggles with vegetable vendors in the evening on her way back from work. The sweaty, tired bhabhi/didi/aunty who sleepwalks her way back home from the office, completely zoned out, holding on to her purse as a soldier holds on to their weapon. In fact, there is a fat chance that you are Sarita.

Sarita will remind you of that working middle-class woman we all know. Someone you see hurrying across the platform to catch the local in her cotton saree.

She and her husband Sushant (Roshan Mathew) carry the burden of unfulfilled dreams. Sushant wanted to be a musician, Sarita a singer, and while the former struggles to hold on to a job, she has taken up the role of being the family’s breadwinner, working at a sarkaari bank. However, she also has to perform all the household chores, with little help from Sushant who would rather play carrom at the society’s adda than help manage the home. This has only made Sarita bitter towards her husband, and rightly so.

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In one sequence Sushant complains to a tired Sarita, “Hafte me teesri baar alu khila rahi ho,” asking her to make paneer sometime. To this Sarita replies, “Agar paneer khana hai to paneer bano.” It makes you applaud and pity her for her situation in the same breath. Is it too much for a working woman to expect her stay-at-home husband to at least help out with housework? While Sarita’s constant taunts regarding Sushant’s lack of employment may seem misplaced, could her frustration be more from fighting battles on all fronts on her own, then just her husband’s unemployed status?

Sarita also shows us how limited the aspirations of middle-class women are. On getting access to hoards of free cash, she splurges it on cushion covers, new crockery and fake plants for her house. She takes to hiding the cash in bundles all around the house – an odd dabba in her kitchen, the drawer under her mandir, under the clothes in her cupboard, in a torch! This is a practice that we are all very familiar with. It just makes Sarita a very relatable character.

The other side of demonetisation

Whenever we talk about the 2016 demonetisation the narrative is often about long queues, empty ATMs, the beleaguered junta and all the limitations that cash crunch created for everyone. Choked tells this story from the other side of the bank counter. Having to sit for days counting demonetised notes, handling the new currency and the desperate mobs, not much has been said about bank employees who had to work tirelessly during this phase. Often their limitations even robbed them of empathy.

Kashyap created a flawed everyday woman who draws us into her world, whom we empathise with, but then the plot just fails to hold our attention.

When an old woman tells Sarita how it will be difficult for her to come to the bank again and again to withdraw cash, she quips, “Bank me paise milte hain sympathy nahi milti. Unke hath jodie jinko vote dia tha.” Since it is an Anurag Kashyap film you know which side of the argument he will take, and thus the political commentary makes you chuckle but doesn’t come as a surprise. And that is my problem with Choked. It is not the film that it could have been.

Choked misses the mark by a mile

Despite an interesting premise, nuanced performances by Kher and Mathew, Choked fails to stir you. The last half an hour drags on and then the film gets wrapped up with an urgency that is not in sync with the rest of the film. It is a film that you could watch on a lazy Sunday when you have nothing better to do and are prepared to relive the horror of demonetisation.

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I wish this film was sharper for Sarita’s sake. Kashyap created a flawed everyday woman who draws us into her world, whom we empathise with, but then the plot just fails to hold our attention. Once it slips into loopholes like one of those slimy drain pipes that it showcases, it is not able to redeem itself.

The views expressed are the author’s own.