Once a chocolate boy, Jimmy Shergill these days is known for playing overbearing characters who get swindled in the business of love and politics. In Choona, the latest Netflix series title after the metaphor for conning someone in the Hindi heartland, he is incredibly believable as the vindictive Shukla for whom politics is business and vice versa. For him, MLAs are the currency that he buys and sells to build his political capital. His party is called Swachh but there is hardly anything that is clean about him. His only weakness is perhaps his unstinting belief that planetary positions will decide his place in the political hierarchy of Uttar Pradesh. What happens when the people he has wronged along the way combine to bring him down by planning a perfect heist?
Directed and co-written by Pushpendra Nath Mishra, the first season is devoted to the build-up and the makers spend a lot of time introducing the characters and establishing their motivation to bring Shukla down. There is Ansari (Ashim Gulati), a cocksure local goon whose father-like mentor was eliminated by Shukla. Ansari’s friend Bankey is a police officer who was publicly humiliated by Shukla for trying to show the long arm of the law. Bishnu (Chandan Roy) is the brother-in-law of Shukla who seeks to avenge the treatment meted out to his sister.
Then there is JP (Vikram Kochhar), a contractor who suffered because he didn’t take Shukla’s fascination for vastu seriously. Similarly, Panditji (Atul Srivastava) makes it to the team because he was punished by Shukla for guiding his rival. Triloki (Namit Das) is an imposter who also brings a semblance of ideological layering or moral centre to the audacious act. Jhumpa (Niharika Dutt), an emerging cyber thief, and Bela (Monica Panwar), a wannabe police officer who ends up in a newsroom, are the female representatives in the boys club.
Choona Season 1 (Hindi)
Director: Pushpendra Nath Misra
Cast: Jimmy Shergill, Namit Das, Ashim Gulati, Vikram Kochhar, Atul Srivastava, Gyanendra Tripathi, Moncia Panwar
Storyline: The victims of a ruthless politician team up to exact their revenge by plotting an audacious heist.
Narrated by Arshad Warsi, the series impresses with its ambition and scale but acquires a supercilious tone after a point. Almost the whole season has been devoted to the build-up. Detailing is good but here it seems even the research and notes on quirky characters and cow belt politics have made it to the final cut. When you zoom too much into a picture, the quality gets compromised or Shukla starts stuttering when it gives away too much.
At the street corners of UP, you find two types of characters. One who indulges in hollow blustering about themselves and those who indulge in myth-making about the power centres in the area. When it becomes too much, it is called bakaiti. Warsi is best suited to tell the tale of such bombastic characters. Here, the writers use the word to give us a sense of the setting, but eventually, they themselves fall prey to it. The use of regional flair and metaphors is fine but when it becomes a tool to consume time, it reduces it to a series of endless posturing without any substantial emotional pull. And those who know the region would vouch that too much bakaiti blunts the edge.
Having said that, Mishra has nicely integrated astronomy into storytelling to create delicious moments lined by dark humour that give the series the feel of a pulpy novel. There are engaging passages like the way Bela flirts with Ansari. For a change, here a girl gets besotted with a boy’s footwork and hairy chest and expresses it.
In terms of form, the series follows the trend of treating colourful dialogues and flashy characters with a matte finish. On OTT platforms, the makers these days tend to believe that dim lighting brings an international feel to their tales of hinterland. Once a novelty, it seems to have become a compulsion now. Here in the first episode when the trusted priest enters Shukla’s room, we can hardly see the politician’s face because of the manufactured darkness but Punditji can figure out that his eyes are red.
Choona is currently streaming on Netflix