'Choked' star Roshan Mathew interview: 'I find flawed characters exciting'

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Roshan Mathew played Sushanth Pillai in 'Choked'
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Roshan Mathew sounds excited.

His Bollywood debut Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai was released on Netflix On Thursday noon and his phone hasn’t stopped ringing ever since.

Directed by ace film maker Anurag Kashyap, Choked is a dark satire on the struggles of a lower middle class nuclear family whose complex life turns even more complex with the appearance of a stash of unlimited cash in their leaky drainage pipe.

The film has Roshan playing Sushant Pillai, the unemployed, laidback and irresponsible husband of Sarita, a bank teller who leads a frustrated life in their dingy, leaking Mumbai apartment, taking care of her ‘couch potato’ partner and eight-year-old son.

Roshan has been a familiar face to Malayalam movie buffs for the past four years when he collaborated with veterans P T Kunju Muhammed, Anjali Menon, Shanavas K Bavakutty and Geethu Mohandas.

Koode saw him as a musician who deserts his ill girlfriend, but gets consumed by remorse later. In Thottappan, he plays a petty thief who falls for a fierce girl and has eyes for more than the girl.

In Geethu’s Moothon, which she had co-written with Anurag, Roshan had acted opposite Nivin Pauly as a speech-impaired homosexual pining for love.

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With each movie, Roshan keeps surprising, pulling off with ease and conviction the complexities of the characters, his voice and even the minutest expressions supporting his impressive acts.

Anurag approached Roshan on the sets of Moothon. He sent the script and asked the actor to decide after reading it. And he did.

The film was planned to be shot in June and July, but Roshan didn’t tell anyone about it, until Geethu broke the news through social media.

In Choked, taking one more step ahead, the 28-year-old plays a dad, a character who takes his wife for granted and spends time playing carroms, Candy Crush and sipping from a beer bottle.

Set in 2016, the satirical film shows how demonetisation demonised the life of working class in India.

Bollywood debut

Roshan finds flawed characters very exciting. “It’s very interesting to have roles which are not perfect or Mr Right, like Sushant, who is insecure, suspicious and jealous. Someone who might have grown up admiring alpha male heroes, he goes on to become fully dependant on his wife, his ego constantly being hurt, which reveals his worse side. Playing that was exciting,” says the actor.

The film was shot on a set. Perhaps that was the only difference in working style Roshan came across.

He says, “I too have heard that the work culture is different in Bollywood and Malayalam, but it was almost the same. The same warmth and freedom while working with Geethu or Rajeev Ravi. It is a small story set in a small house. Its well-equipped functioning was a new experience and the set – the apartment where most of the movie was shot.”

Worries

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It’s the story of Sarita, the sole breadwinner of the family, who finds her broken drainpipe regurgitating rolls of currency every night, literally changing her life overnight, until demonetization happens, unleashing chaos.

More than portraying a debt-ridden failed musician, what worried Roshan was playing a dad. “I was worried if I would look like a father and would it be convincing. But the whole crew found it funny that I was concerned about ‘that’. They were very confident that I could pull it off and I think it went well,” says the actor, who feels that his equation with Saiyani and the child actor worked in favour.

All praise for Saiyani

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“It’s Saiyani’s film, Sarita’s story,” he says, expressing his admiration for the actor. “A very dedicated and honest artiste, she is admirably focussed on her work. We became friends very soon and that helped in sharing a good equation. The making of the film too was a lot of fun because director Anurag Kashyap gave us a lot of space for improvisation. At times, he wouldn’t say ‘cut’ and we could explore anything. Saiyani was very spontaneous and when you have an actor like that opposite you, it’s very encouraging and helps you be in the moment.”

Anurag Kashyap's support

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Equally encouraging was Anurag. “He is full of ideas. Every day, he would come on the sets with new plans, deviating from the script. In fact, he had asked me to keep aside the script and do my part. Unexpected ideas which are not written in the script excite him and that freedom excites the actors too.”

On Thursday, Roshan watched Choked at his home with his parents. “It was planned to be released on Over-the-Top (OTT), not because of the lockdown,” he says.

Theatre plans

Last year, Roshan had directed a play 'A Very Normal Family', a bilingual dark comedy starring his actor-friends. He was working on his second theatre production when lockdown happened. “We are planning to resume it, but given the current scenario, it will take time. People have to gather to watch a play and restrictions will have to be lifted. It’s a difficult situation, but looking at the bigger picture, I can’t complain. There’s no reason to put anyone at risk. We know what’s happening around.”

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Choked shows how demonetisation affected the underprivileged and the absurdity of the announcement. When Sarita takes the news with shock, Sushant breaks into a dance oblivious to the chaos that is about to follow. There are several subtle and political overtures in the movie – when the customer who asks about ‘microchip’ in the new Rs 2,000 currency, during the conversations on curtailing black money, 'achche din', and the TV screaming ‘Be like Modi, eat mushrooms’ as the husband complains to the wife about the boring dinner.

Roshan finds the political narrative interesting. “Anurag keeps saying that for the characters in the movie, survival is their politics. Nothing else matters to them. They just try to get by doing what they can do.”

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