Onto the next release of the weekend and I finished watching the new Hindi series Choona which is now streaming on Netflix. Originally scheduled to release in August, the show was pushed back for unknown reasons before finally releasing this weekend. The year 2023 has been a great year for the Indian content on Netflix with shows like Scoop, Trial By Fire or even Guns And Gulaabs ruling the roost. But the perennial issue of Netflix India not serving home grown stories directly from the heartland did remain(discounting Guns And Gulaabs which was set in a fictional town). That was all about to change with the release of Choona which did seem like a home-grown black comedy revolving around a heist. The content involving a heist is often interesting given that it utilizes the ‘punch-up’ method towards the people with power and money while also keeping the vested interests of the viewers in check. That said, does Choona manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Choona follows the story of a bunch of nemesis to a local politician who decide to join forces in order to loot the latter off a heavy fortune. The story here is interested and that one novelty factor was the tone of the story which was tilting towards a black comedy, something that added a whole new dimension to the proceedings. The screenplay standing at 8 episodes ranging from 30 odd minutes to 50 odd minutes did seem slightly long to begin with. Yet, my hesitation around it quickly evaporated with a compelling and funny narrative that had me invested in the drama while being in splits.
The tone of the drama was set very early on with the introduction of the antagonist who suffers from a terrible nightmare that traces its roots to the position of the planets. There was a quirky inherent nature in the drama that instantly hits home as you are slowly introduced to the other players in the drama, all of whom would combine forces against the antagonist. There is a genuine effort to build on the character traits and their dynamics with each other by infusing the proceedings with a tinge of humour. This, while the drama consistently remains rooted to the area where it is set in, with a heavy political undertones(at times religious too) that continues to add layers to the drama.
The proceedings are incredibly interesting with the back story of each of the protagonists and how their equation with the antagonist acts as a foil for their future actions against him. The writers want to challenge the viewers with the narrative style which is why the ever jumping timelines need focus to comprehend and fully understand the dynamics contributing to the actions. Yet, the one thing that sticks out like a sore thumb is the frequent voiceover that often explains the proceedings to the viewers. This is not to say that Arshad Warsi was in anyway bad but the creative decision of the makers to dumb down a cerebral drama just with the voiceover wasn’t encouraging to the viewers at all. But thankfully, the drama around does hold your attention.
Some portions of the drama particularly in the second hour seemed very far-fetched on paper. But it took some incredibly good performances to pull of the ‘heist'(pun intended), something that I shall get to in my subsequent sections. There is a driving purpose in the narrative that continues to remain political while also drawing references from real life in the political climate that we are privy to. And it does result in a rather indulgent watch with bouts of humour to accompany it. The subtle twists and turns leading up to the final act are interesting and they would keep you on your toes. The final act involving the actual heist was interesting and hilarious in equal measures thus, resulting in a nicely written screenplay which is unique and home-grown with respect to setting the tale in the heartland of the country.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are quirky but true to the area where it is set in that not only is impactful but adds a layer of authenticity to the drama while adding to the humour quotient as well. The BGM is rustic and goes well with the mood of the drama by heightening several scenes. The cinematography does capture nice wonderful frames as well. The costume department does a wonderful with the multiple getups of certain characters. The editing us hood but could have been slightly more crisper for a tighter narrative. Director Pushpendra Nath Misra does a wonderful job with the character development and the world building by also tactfully utilizing the quirky elements of the drama to make for a rather enjoyable watch. The direction is pretty good here.
The performances are fabulous by the ensemble cast. The good bit about the writing is thwt every character stands out in the narrative. Dheerendra Dwivedi as Mintu and Vaibhav Mehta as Arunoday are splendid to watch in their respective roles and they do contribute to the humour in the drama as well. Harpreet Bindra as Madan and Amit Sinha as Asthana are first rate as well. It was a pleasure watching the performance of Atul Srivastava as Panditji who laces his act with subtle bouts of humour. Chandan Roy as Bishnu is terrific as the ‘mute’ character in a rather unassuming role although his disability was a bit of a hit and a miss with the writing point of view. For instance, had the character not acted ‘mute’, it still wouldn’t have drastically changed anything. The idea was to create humour out of it which it did eventually, and Chandan was splendid with his act here.
Niharika Lyra Dutt as Jhumpa is outstanding to watch and she does a commendable job particularly in the back end of the drama. Vikram Kochhar as JP Yadav has his comic timing on point and he does a wonderful job here. Gyanendra Tripathi as Baankey is earnest and sincere and there is a definitely quality in his character that makes him affable. The situations that he often finds himself in are indifferent and it is his antics in those situations that make for a hilarious watch. Monika Panwar as Bela is fiery and has an emaculate screen presence. She is confident and assertive in a wonderfully performed role.
Namit Das as Triloki is a revelation. There were portions in the drama which were far-fetched and had the actor not been convincing with his act then the drama would have literally crumbled. But Namit did bring all his stage experience in play by performing a character with various getups including that of Choona Maharaj wherein he had to tread a fine line between acting to be genuine yet having to himself believe that if he is caught then it would be the end of the road for him. And this measured act was infused with humour that made for an incredibly good watch.
Aashim Gulati as Ansari is on a roll this year by making a mark in all the releases that he has been a part of. Here, he extends his form wherein he owns the stage with a supremely natural act onscreen. He was basically just reacting to the situation by completely trusting the writing, and that at times did result in bouts of humour along the way. And his screen presence is terrific as well.
Jimmy Sheirgill has always been a powerful performer both in positive and negative roles. Here as Shukla ji, he is menacing from the exterior almost owning the arena around him. Yet his vulnerabilities with respect to astrology is what added to the humour quotient of the film. This while Jimmy did maintain the tone of his character perfectly, not trying to be funny at all. And this measured act was indeed brilliant from a rather seasoned performer.
Choona is a home-grown black comedy heist drama that is terrific and makes for a wonderful watch. Available on Netflix.