THE LOCKDOWN HAS taught me many things at many levels. Most importantly, that the world should be run by women. For the first time, we’ve seen two kinds of world leaders, those who intend to deal with the situation and those with an intent to self-preservation. I wish the whole world was like New Zealand. Look at the dignity with which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern handled the café issue when she was turned away by the man at the door because it had reached its limit of seating with social distancing. It tells you two things—that you don’t need courage to do the right thing because you have empowered the person at the door so much. And that the Prime Minister can walk away, without resentment, without any hurt to self-worth. You set a precedent that you will allow no corruption or exploitation. Everyone feels courageous enough to go outside and be themselves.
There are some other things I noticed during the lockdown. I am happy that my perception of Shiv Sena has changed. The way Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has handled the situation has been a bright spot in an otherwise dismal landcape. And the other is that I have stopped complaining because I am not the one who is suffering directly. I might comment on politics, on what is happening on our streets, but there is no way my problems are anything compared to the plight of those who are just surviving or trying to get home. The inequality in the world is so apparent today. And one feels so helpless because there is nothing one can do. Or how much can you do? People out there on the streets who are working with them, hats off to them.
THE NEW FILM that I’ve made, Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, revolved around demonetisation. But it could as much be about the times we are living in. When the script first came to me in March 2015, it was just about a housewife who finds money in the kitchen sink. Our team acquired the script from the writer Nihit Bhave. But I felt there was an X-factor missing in the film. So Nihit became part of the team for Sacred Games, Mukkabaaz, Lust Stories. Then demonetisation happened. We needed to make the script more relevant. With demonetisation, it became about a marriage under lockdown and where the love has gone. Yet, they are not looking outside. They’re trying to make it work or living alongside with it. Suddenly, the money starts to literally flow into their life, and life starts seeming as if it has a purpose. Everything evolved from there.
Though the film is set during the demonetisation of 2016, I haven’t thrust my own political opinions on my characters. They don’t have my privilege or the information I have. They can’t afford to have an opinion. They’re surviving. My characters are lower middle-class strugglers, migrants in the city. The husband is from Bengaluru, the wife is from Konkan. He was a musician, a guitar player, she was a singer. It is not so much a thriller as a Sai Paranjpye film. They are not evil people, they’re keeping secrets from each other but they’re there for each other. They’re still a family. The film is set in a typical suburban Mumbai building where from keeping their doors and windows open for neighbours to walk in and out, they begin to lock themselves in, to hunker down.
That’s typical human nature, isn’t it? It’s how the middle class deals with a crisis. The first instinct is to hide our problems so that we don’t lose our dignity, respect. We shut ourselves in from the world. When we don’t have a crisis, we are open to everyone and everything. That’s a metaphor that goes with every crisis.
For me, this film is a labour of love, unlike anything I’ve done before. It’s a love story and it’s made in the right way, whether it was recreating the entire set inside the house on green screen or Saiyami Kher putting on weight to look like a mother or casting Roshan Matthew as the husband (which I did immediately after watching rushes of Moothon in 2018) or spending three months to get the exact music pieces for the film. We started shooting last year in June-July. I can’t see a single mistake in the film. In a way, this is the way films will be made in future.
Even in response to demonetisation, we see all kinds of reactions. We see the crowds rushing into the banks, we see the man with cash posing in a selfie. Someone is dancing, someone has josh. And the housewife, who is also a bank cashier, is just saying ‘my banking hours have increased, all I want when I return to my family is a clean house.’ She is not interested in the politics of demonetisation. She wants to be left alone. She starts locking the kitchen door. Everyone is going through their own meltdown, in their own middle-class way.
I HAVE HAD GOOD days and bad days during the lockdown. I’ve been keeping my distance from social media, and have allocated a specific time to it after my yoga or exercise, unless there is a barrage of messages which draw my attention to something in particular that people know I will react to. My angst has been reduced to sarcasm because I know its futility. I know I have to deal with the situation. I am not superhuman.
The first 25-30 days, I was binge-watching movies and shows. I’ve spent days binge-watching a lot of Hitchcock, among other movies. I’ve been cooking. I am an expert in making all sorts of dal. I am a very good after-chef; I make magic out of leftovers. I cook dal and sabzi for two days and store it in the fridge and then improvise, like my movies. I can make it yummy and tasty, doesn’t matter which school it belongs to. I put on eight kilos, thanks to all the cooking in the first few weeks, and am now spending the rest of the time trying to lose that weight. I’ve lost 5 kilos already; three more to go. I am also writing or struggling to write.
On my bad days, I have my age-old partner with me, my whisky, though I’ve had to ration it of late. There have been days when I’ve not been able to get out of bed or my room. That’s very few though. The feeling is what more can I do.
But I’ve also done enough thinking that will last me for five years. I’ve thrashed out ideas and stories in my head, dark, funny, light and serious, which will keep me busy for some time now. I’ve found my softer side and it’s pouring out of me now.
(Anurag Kashyap’s new film, Choked: Paisa Bolta Hai, will be out on Netflix on June 5th)