“I am in a good place.”
It’s been nearly two years since Phantom Films, the production company Anurag Kashyap ran with his partners, was disbanded following an allegation of sexual harassment. Kashyap has since set up a new company, Good Bad Films, with two new partners, and is looking ahead to the premiere of Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai. The Netflix original film, which stars Saiyami Kher and Roshan Mathew, will be streamed from June 5.
Choked explores the life of a middle-class family in Mumbai, the impact of demonetisation and the way a bottomless flow of money can alter a person’s life. A one-line story about a bank cashier who discovers cash flowing out of her kitchen sink every night piqued Kashyap’s interest.
“When the writer Nihit Bhave came to me with the idea, I was intrigued by the house and the middle-class Maharashtrian world,” the 47-year-old filmmaker told Scroll.in. “Initially, it [felt like] magic realism within a Sai Paranjapye world. But there was no clean finish to the story, and that took almost four years to come together.”
The demonetisation angle found its way into the film much later. Kashyap was initially in favour of the removal of high-value notes from the economy in 2016. “It will cause a lot of heart ache but Kudos..Super way to make the black money redundant,” he tweeted in November 2016.
“I got perspective a month after the event, when I realised the government hadn’t thought this through,” Kashyap said. “I got an even better perspective while shooting Mukkabaaz in Uttar Pradesh during the elections. That’s when I suggested bringing the idea into this script.”
Demonetisation is only one of the themes in Choked: “It’s about marriage, about this woman Sarita, the dynamics of the lower middle class and of a building society, it’s about human nature and how things keep changing.”
The most complex part of the production was showing the passage of money down a drain. “We start the film with Sarita getting the money, but the money has started flowing from before,” Kashyap said. “We are not telling everyone’s story, though. We are telling the story from Sarita’s point of view.”
Despite Kashyap’s vast experience – his credits stretch from Black Friday (2007) to Manmarziyaan (2018), he says he struggled to put Choked together. “The industry won’t back a film with a relative newcomer and a Malayalam actor [Roshan Mathew] who is not the lead,” he said.
Kashyap’s association with Netflix came handy. The streaming platform has produced several of his recent projects, including two seasons of the web series Sacred Games and the anthology films Lust Stories and Ghost Stories.
“Netflix budgeted the film based on the script and that empowered me to make it the right way,” Kashyap said. “But we are always running against time, constraints and money.”
Kashyap’s new production company, Good Bad Films, goes some way towards ensuring autonomy. “I actually didn’t want to start another production house,” he said. “I just wanted to make films my way. I realised that while people were willing to support my films, they all wanted to change me. But I am comfortable in my space. So I had no option but to start this. The good thing is that we don’t have studio ambitions. Ambition is where things get ruined. Now the creative choices are mine.”
The company will be bankrolling other directors too. “Like Tisca Chopra – she has an amazing script and she wants to direct,” Kashyap said.
He has three days of shooting left on a film featuring Alaya F and a newcomer. He is also developing another web series and is in the process of scripting the screen adaptation of Suketu Mehta’s non-fiction bestseller Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.
Kashyap is clear about his fanbase: “My audience is not the audience of Salman Khan. That’s the best way to describe them. They don’t have time to line up at the cinema on Friday-Saturday because they are busy working. I know my career as a filmmaker survived because people were watching my films [pirated] on Torrents as opposed to in cinemas.”