Choona Review: A Two-hour Heist Comedy Stretched Into an Eight-Episode Drama

The series is streaming on Netflix
Choona Review: A Two-hour Heist Comedy Stretched Into an Eight-Episode Drama

Director: Pushpendra Nath Misra
Writer: Pushpendra Nath Misra

Cast: Jimmy Shergill, Aashim Gulati, Namit Das, Chandan Roy, Gyanendra Tripathi, Vikram Kocchar, Niharika Lyra Dutt, Monika Panwar, Atul Srivastava

Streaming on: Netflix

Choona starts off fine. The setting is semi-fictional, with veiled nods to real-world politics. It opens with the ruthless urban development minister of the Swachh Samaj party, Avinash Shukla (Jimmy Shergill), scheming to overthrow the government. Shergill has a knack of playing middle-Indian villains with just the right mix of swag and self-awareness. His performances riff on our perception of a typical Jimmy Shergill character – a man who, regardless of his macho reputation, always ends up a loser. First, he’d lose the girl (in the Tanu Weds Manu and Saheb Biwi Aur Gangster movies), and now he loses the plot. 

His Avinash Shukla is corrupt and murderous, so his impending defeat is expected to be even more amusing. The eight-episode series revolves around just that: Six men – all of whom were ruined by Avinash in the past – join forces and set out to take revenge, driven by personal vendetta rather than anti-establishment rage. Their plan is a heist to destroy Avinash’s plans of a political heist (he wants to dethrone the chief minister). 

The first few episodes bustle with idiosyncrasies. The wry narrator (voiced by Arshad Warsi) is very chatty. The tone stops short of satirical. Avinash is super-superstitious; he loots, steals, cheats, kills and bribes according to vastu and mahurats and stars. He thinks astrology is his strength, but it’s actually his weakness. 

Aashim Gulati in Choona
Aashim Gulati in Choona

Too Many Characters, Not Enough Plot

The ‘six planets’ who’re set to crash Avinash’s party have colourful backstories. There’s Yakub Ansari (the prolific Aashim Gulati), a rakish student leader whose ambitions to climb the ladder were once dashed by Avinash. There’s his childhood friend, Baankey (Gyanendra Tripathi), a policeman who got demoted after manhandling Avinash outside a temple. There’s JP (Vikram Kocchar), a contractor who hits the bottle after Avinash’s astrological demands during a ministry-approved project leaves him in financial tatters. There’s Triloki (Namit Das), a master of disguise whose motives aren’t as personal as the rest. There’s Pandit Upadhyay (Atul Srivastava), Avinash’s ex in-house astrologer who is quite literally back from the dead. And there’s Bishnu (Chandan Roy), Avinash’s mute brother-in-law and loyal Man Friday, still traumatised by the murder of his sister. There are also the two women – Baankey’s feisty sister Bela (Monica Panwar), and Triloki’s tech-savvy girlfriend Jhumpa (Niharika Lyra Dutt). There’s also Avinash’s bodyguard, his accountant, and the bitter boss (named Mintu Grenade) of Ansari’s former hooligan party.

If it sounds too crowded, that’s because it is. Choona aspires to be the kind of scatterbrained series that thrives on chaos. The unfocused storytelling – where every arc jostles for space and attention – is supposed to be the point. But it becomes exhausting in a long-form story. At some point, Choona begins to resemble a two-hour heist comedy stretched into a cluttered eight-episode drama. It's like watching a sprinter pretending to have the legs for a marathon. So they flap about, using diversion tactics to justify the length of the race. The director’s previous show, Taj Mahal 1989 (2020), had a similar issue (including that jaded visual language, where every frame looks like the colour and personality have been sucked out of it). But at least it was rooted in coming-of-age vignettes, where the narrative density would be offset by cultural density. It’s jarring in Choona – the genre is so one-note that offshoots feel like distractions. The second it appears as though the ‘team’ is set to strike, Choona morphs into a random political potboiler. Mintu Grenade keeps emerging; a shootout and kidnapping happen; Avinash’s nexus with a builder, a redevelopment project and his duel with the chief minister take centerstage. All the while, one wonders what the off-screen characters are up to. Do they simply wait around on a table for the others to stop stealing the limelight? Do they have a life beyond the patient plotting?

Indulgent Writing and Forced Whimsy 

There are more inconsistencies. Despite equal weightage to the six backstories, it’s Ansari who – by virtue of looking like a hero and having a romantic track – feels like the protagonist. He has more history with Avinash, too. Baankey and Triloki are next in this narrative hierarchy. Bishnu is reduced to a Koyla-inspired prototype. JP spends the series drinking and slurring from a corner of their secret lair (which is lit like a 1970s disco den). There's also a sense that the creator is too attached to his writing to be able to shape it. Certain verbal set pieces go on and on – particularly the ones where Triloki pretends to be Avinash’s new astrologer, the artless exchanges between Ansari and his girlfriend, or even something as basic as a minister threatening a rival. All the actors do their job, but there's no melody to these moments. One grows older by the time they end. It’s a classic Indian flaw: What to do with so many people? 

A still from Choona
A still from Choona

By the halfway point, all our annoyances come to the fore. The voice-over is an endless crutch, like a dad who insists on reading a bedtime story to his child. A character so much as breathes and Warsi comments. The action scenes resort to split-screen gimmickry, in order to create an illusion that much is happening. Jhumpa magically creates a VR (virtual reality) layout so that the men can rehearse their plan; these sequences play out better than the live-action series itself. The heist itself is so silly – involving a security force behaving like they’re in a Priyadarshan comedy – that one wonders why it took so many episodes to plan. Avinash is painted as a monster who can have anyone killed, but he appears worryingly easy to deceive; it’s like there are two versions of him – the vindictive baddie that he is, and the villain the series needs. The idea is that a superstitious politician is his own worst nightmare, but Avinash’s presence is undercut by the confused writing. The few funny moments – like Baankey getting drunk and belting the wrong criminals; or Triloki ‘subtitling’ the pandit’s language in crude Hindi – are lost in an ocean of forced whimsy. 

Perhaps the biggest problem with Choona is its cultural blindness. You can sense the fear in its design. The city and regions are unnamed. The series exists in isolation, in an apolitical bubble, where terms like religion and communal tensions are avoided. Ansari becomes the leader of a Muslim locality that Avinash wants to ‘redevelop’. Jail-time burnishes his image. Houses are burnt. Baankey and Ansari might be old friends, but Baankey is vehemently against Ansari dating his sister; the subtext is buried so deep that we can’t see it anymore. His reasoning is that Ansari is a goon, nothing else. The only sign of the actual world is when Ansari promises the ‘minority vote’ to Shukla. This invisibilisation of the India we live in is not surprising, but it hampers the narrative to the point of social inertia. 

How am I supposed to engage with a story in denial of its own identity? I’m not asking for authenticity, just a simple nod to an environment that may or may not influence the premise. As a result, in spite of starting out as a watchable show, there’s an air of inevitability about its collapse. The cracks become full-blown structural flaws. And the title of the series doubles up as its own review.

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