“Five Losers is a Bomb”: Director Pushpendra Nath Misra on ‘Choona’

Misra’s newest show is a comedy heist drama about six unremarkable men who decide they’re going to take down a powerful politician
“Five Losers is a Bomb”: Director Pushpendra Nath Misra on ‘Choona’

The stars have aligned for Netflix’s Choona, which finally drops this week after its release was postponed from August 3. To quote the caption on Netflix’s promotional post on Instagram, “Mahurat badla lekin #Choona lagane ka iraada nahi badla! (The date has changed, but not the intention)”. Written and directed by Pushpendra Nath Misra, Choona is a satirical heist drama that tells the story of an unlikely bunch of people who band together to take down a ruthless politician, played deliciously by Jimmy Shergill

Film Companion spoke to Misra about the show and how he hopes to stand out in the cluttered OTT landscape.

Here are edited excerpts:

An unlikely group of misfits coming together for a common cause is a very compelling storyline. Why do we love heists so much?

More than a heist story, Choona is a revenge drama, in the sense of — when you damage the self-respect of the common man, they want to avenge the insult they face at the hands of the powerful. So the heist here is a by-product of avenging the damage to their self-respect. We feel like the powerful person is always going to subdue the weaker, but in this case, when an ordinary person comes together with another ordinary person and another ordinary person — five losers is a bomb, you know? 

A still from Choona
A still from Choona

You won't see that kind of novelty in a lot of heist stories. Even in Oceans, they’re all highly skilled people, they’re people who know what they're doing, they're the greatest in their field. Here, nobody knows anything. We’ve got a set of self-aware losers. They’re not just losers, they know they're losers. They're constantly pulling each other's leg, like “Who are you? You’re nothing but a failed cop.” So they are quite aware of the fact that they have no power, but still aim to do what they shouldn’t even dream of.

What are some of your favourite heist movies? Were you inspired by any of them when creating Choona?

I think all of them remain in the back of your head. There's so many plots in the world today that to say that my plot is not like anything else is not true. The uniqueness is, what is your story? Yeh kahaani mere pet mein paida hui (This story was born in me). It's a dysfunctional heist, it's not something which is commonly seen anywhere out there. The originality of it is that it's a dysfunctional robbery with high-ambition misfits, and the comedy that comes out of that. There are a lot of stories out there in the world. To try and make a parallel of that would not be a good idea. I think what's a good idea is to develop a unique, original story that can happen in a land that you know. So a very North Indian landscape — not a specific city, but a very North Indian landscape where these kinds of characters could be found, where the powerful and weaker sections of society co-exist. So I believe Choona was largely imagination, but I think it is important to have an awareness of what stories have been told so that you don’t do the same thing.

In a show with an ensemble cast and so many characters, how do you balance your writing to do justice to each one of them?

Firstly, you have to know why that character is there in the story, and how the story goes forward with the character. I don't like to use characters as props. Like, this person is there just to move the story forward and then he disappears. In ensemble cast stories, the whole idea is that our world is made up of many people. And we are all heroes of our own story. I like that world, which has got composite cultures, and it's got a lot of different people with different influences, backgrounds, social status, religion — it’s a mixed bag of characters. But why are they coming into the story? How are they helping the story? If you know that, then the part writes itself.

A still from Choona
A still from Choona

Choona prominently features a narrator (played by Arshad Warsi), and some of his dry comments really add to the humour of the show. Can you talk me through that decision?

I felt that the voice of an author was required. In a sense, it is a saga, it's a tale of epic proportions. Rather than just letting it play out, having somebody take the audience through it, guiding them through the various planets and the elements — the story goes from one set of characters to the other, and if I just cut between those scenes, it will slightly throw the audience. The element of tragedy mixed with comedy is very interesting for me, because what is tragic for somebody is almost always funny for somebody else. So that irreverence, that sense of detachment from the story could only have come from a voice that was not within the story. 

Astrology is one of the major themes of the show. You have an antagonist who believes in astrology, while also believing that he can control the planets and create his own fate. His enemies are likened to planets that come together to bring about his downfall. What inspired you to choose this motif?

I believe that a cruel person creates their own bad luck. This bad luck is created in small gestures, small actions, being unaware of your cruelty — and that's what Avinash Shukla (Shergill’s character) does. His power makes him insensitive towards weaker people. The idea is that we are always creating our own fate, in a good way or a bad way. While he thinks that he can control planets, he can control his fate by wearing some rings and taking this bath and doing that ritual — it’s all actually dependent on your actions or karma in this world. Shukla’s bad fortune is his own doing. 

Jimmy Shergill as the villainous Shukla
Jimmy Shergill as the villainous Shukla

You’ve said in the past that right now is the best time to be a storyteller. In a time when there are major OTT shows coming out week after week, how do you stand out? 

I think the challenge is that it has to be same same but different different. You cannot rest till you have a unique plot. Because if you're going to settle on plots that are ordinary or closer to ordinary, they won't really interest the audience. I've said this before, but our writers’ room definitely considers audience and entertainment as two very important factors. We are trying to explore stories where there is a certain something that we want to say, but at the same time, it is intrinsically entertaining. I think that one of the things that you would have probably noticed in Choona is that while it is saying many things, it is not boring you. It’s probably constantly keeping you entertained, and that's what's most important. We want plots that are unique and original and new, even in a genre where a lot has already been done — try to find a new angle to differentiate your work. To be thinking about this X factor in every plot is very important.

You've also said that you consider the audience to be a member of the writers’ room. How does that work? 

One of my favourite shayars, Krishn Bihari Noor, could write in Farsi as well as Urdu, but his poetry was incredibly simple. Let me recite one of his couplets: “Zindagi se badi koi saza hi nahi, jurm kya hai pata hi nahi (There is no greater sentencing than life. What is the crime? One can’t tell).” Another verse of his goes like: “Chaahe sone ke frame mein jad do, aaina jhooth bolta hi nah (Lavish a golden frame upon the mirror, but still it won’t lie).” Such a big concept, conveyed so easily. So I would just say, when you're telling stories to the audience, do not dumb it down. You elevate your art to be able to communicate a concept in a way that it can reach the not-so-artistic, common man. Our purpose is not to second-guess an audience. Our purpose is to make it relatable and easy to grasp the meaning. Choona has some pretty cryptic writing. Like, “Chori karne ke liye purane adarsh jaag gaye (You need old-school values to pull off a heist).” There is some layering going on there. But we do think that the audience will get it. We are making it easier for the audience to get it. So the whole idea of having the audience as a part of your thinking is that while you can think of difficult and complicated plots, try and think of how it can be easily accessed.

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