'Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai' Review: A glaring lens on India's demonetization move in Netflix's thriller
Spoilers for 'Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai' ('Choked: Money Speaks')
On November 8, 2016, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced that from midnight, the country's 500 and 1000 denomination notes would no longer be legal in a move to root out "black money" and corruption. However, the scheme ended up affecting the poor more than the intended targets, with many scrambling to exchange their old notes to get the new fancy 2000 rupee notes. Anurag Kashyap, the director of Netflix's latest Indian movie, 'Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai' initially celebrated the move, however, later criticized it.
The reasons why can be seen in the movie, for which the script was written by Nihit Bhave, who had been working on the story for years. At the center of 'Choked' are Sarita Pillai (Saiyami Kher) and Sushant Pillai (Roshan Mathew), a couple who had slowly fallen out of love due to a past event. While Sushant is an aspiring musician, he is also lazy and entitled, waking up after his son gets back from school, spending the day playing with his friends, and ignoring Sarita's constant requests to get a plumber to come to fix their kitchen sink which has been causing problems for days.
Sarita, meanwhile, is a bank clerk who is the sole breadwinner for the family. She was an aspiring singer but she has performance anxiety and is frustrated with her husband who does nothing to alleviate her stress. Sushant has many debts and Sarita has to pay them off. In the midst of this, Sarita goes to check the overflowing drain beneath the kitchen sink one night, and on inspection comes across a few pouches with money stuffed inside. We are shown at the beginning of the film how that money got there.
Just when Sarita thinks her problems are solved, the country's prime minister makes the demonetization announcement, giving her two reasons to worry — about the illicit stash of money her drainage system is gifting her and the added stress as a bank employee. In a montage, Kashyap shows actual footage of hundreds of Indians queuing in front of banks to make their exchange of old notes for the new. However, the bank soon runs out of the new notes, causing them to go violent.
Meanwhile, Sarita's and Sushant's marriage gets worse as Sushant begins suspecting his wife of having an affair after their nosy neighbors gossip about seeing her with a man.
As the movie progresses, the tension builds and that is evident in Kashyap's choice of scene edits and background score. As with any other Bollywood movie, 'Choked' is also filled with songs interspersing the story which also adds to it. It is the ending of the movie that will keep you watching and gripping your seats while you lean forward, awaiting the impending chaos. Multiple events converge to make us believe that Sarita is going to pay for something that she came across by chance. Will Sushant ever step up?
We will leave that for you to uncover. However, it is interesting to note that in their narration of the demonetization fiasco, neither Bhave nor Kashyap shy away from telling the story of the common person — the old lady who is not well enough to come every day and exchange notes due to the limit, asking Sarita for some sympathy without bestowing any of the criticism on the person who made the decision.
Then there is Sarita's neighbor who is suddenly in dire straits because she has 80,000 rupees in the old notes for the wedding, but now all her plans are going awry — a phenomenon which was heavily reported on in the aftermath of India's demonetization. Kashyap does not hesitate from making political statements either and even shows how the demonetization possibly failed to actually make those who deal with black money suffer.
Saiyami Kher and Roshan Mathew excel in their performances as the strong-willed woman and a man dealing with his shortcomings respectively. Their free-flowing scene work draws you in and does not let go until you are done watching the film — at least a couple of times. 'Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai' is now streaming on Netflix.