Choona is a must-watch heist comedy

Jimmy Sheirgill’s superb essay of Shukla spearheads the riveting Netflix series, Choona. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Arshad Warsi and Jimmy Sheirgill have done two wonderfully humorous films together, even if Jimmy had only a small roles in both and they were not exactly co-stars in that sense—Munna Bhai MBBS and Lage Raho Munna Bhai. Over here, in Choona, it is Jimmy who is the main negative lead, and Arshad is the narrator, but the humor level is on par. Arshad’s classic commentary is the unique ace of this superbly riveting series that is at once a heist comedy caper as well as an intriguingly intricate vendetta drama.

What we can instantly identify with is the way nemesis strikes a ruthless and completely corrupt politician who aspires to be the chief minister, The man is ridiculously superstitious, which adds a tangy shade to the series. And yes, Choona (chemically calcium hydroxide or milk of lime, as also used in paste form in the Indian paan), is also colloquially used as a term for conning someone—choona lagana, in which connotation this series is titled.

This politician, Shukla-ji (Jimmy Sheirgill) will not step at anything to further his own interests. When his astrologer, Pt. Ramacharya Upadhyay (Atul Shrivastav) predicts chief-minister-ship to him but also reveals that he has been called for a consultation by the existing Chief Minister, Shukla has him “dropped” (as in shot and dropped into the river!) by his guard-cum-driver, Madan Singh (Harpreet Bindra).

Meanwhile, Yakub Ansari (Aashim Gulati), an ambitious local goon with a childhood friend in the cop Baankey (Gyanendra Tripathi, who always looks uncannily like the Aamir Khan of yore!) and a ladylove in his sister Bela (Monika Panwar), has been unduly trapped in a moral dilemma by Shukla and wants revenge. Baankey himself has had his professional growth stymied by Shukla because he was loyal to his uniform.

Then there is Shukla’s mute brother-in-law, Bishnu (Chandan Roy)—Shukla’s machinations had led to Bishnu’s wife’s death. Contractor J.P. (Vikram Kochhar) has been ruined by Shukla, and last but not the least is Triloki (Namit Das) for whom also vendetta is also personal. Triloki, a master at acting and disguises, has a girlfriend in the enterprising Jhumpa (Niharika Lyra Dutt) who is an ace at VR (or Virtual Reality with computrnics), which goes on to play a crucial role in the heist.

These victims of one heinous and power-crazy individual form a club to punish Shukla as never before by looting his ill-gotten wealth of Rs. 80 million on a single day. Shukla is first conned into ‘purifying’ the ‘sinfully-earned’ money so that it does not harm him: how this is done has to be watched rather than narrated! Shukla’s big ambition is: buy MLAs (members of legislative assemblies) to overthrow the existing government and become the CM himself.

Shukla’s machinations, always backed by looks into rings and rituals to appease his errant astrological planets, provide the dry humor that so percolates the 8-episode delight of a show. Dark comedies like Apharan and Bicchhoo Ka Khel find a worthy addition in this show that matches the twists and turns of those classics on the Indian web. And Arshad’s narration (both in the content and Arshad’s way of speaking) takes Choona  many steps forward.

The inter-relationships between Shukla’s wannabe avengers is also loaded with rare humorous situations and insights. How JP behaves when drunk and when sober, the enigmatic Bishnu, and the feisty Bela who escapes smoothly from her kidnappers even as Ansari and Baankey are coming to rescue her, the way Madan Singh is victimized and how the whole drama of loot is staged are among the highlights of this tale.

All I will add is, that as a (healthy!) habit, I never binge-watch a series, but if there is any show I am tempted to watch again for relaxed, breezy enjoyment, I just might hop on to Netflix and enjoy the comic nuances of this story and the extremely lovable characters once more!

A female viewer might even want to mother, care for and look after Shukla, who, when he is not menacing, is supremely vulnerable—Jimmy Sheirgill has given a lot of great performances, but this one ranks among his topmost ones. And though he is the loser yet again (which he is, romantically at least, in most of his films so far!), he is the protagonist and will be back, as indicated charmingly, in the next season in the same wickedly lovable capacity!

A fabulous essay also comes from the versatile Namit Das—he is simply magnificent in his various disguises, especially as the holy man who isn’t. The garbs simply help to highlight his work, for he dons several disguises at different times. The finest performances after them are from Vikram Kocchar as JP and Chandan Roy as Bishnu. Aashim Gulati is getting to be an expert at the rebellious and quirky kind of characters that also have a shade of innocent helplessness. He is charming as Ansari.

Dheerendra Dwivedi as the goon Mintu, more to be pitied than feared as it turns out, is also a delight, while Harpreet Bindra as the wooden-faced Madan Singh is a hoot.

Of the two spunky girls, Monika Panwar scores higher thanks to a better role, but Niharika Lyra Dutt’s expressions in particular are first-rate. Atul Shrivastava and Gyanendra Tripathi are eloquently in sync with their characters.

The series is a triumph for creator-writer-director Pushpendra Nath Misra. Smart editing (Aarti Bajaj), effective background scoring (Dhruv Ghanekar) and superb technical values—the VR world has been created in an awesome manner, never seen before in the web domain—are the other strengths of this saga. Vishnu Babu, Rounak Magoo, Santosh Valabhoj and Riaz Patelare in charge of this department, while Vikram Dahiya manages the action.

Don’t miss this near-perfect world of madness, mirth and mayhem for anything.

Rating: ****1/2

Netflix presents Flying Saucer Productions’ Choona  Created, produced and directed by: Pushpendra Nath Misra  Written by: Pushpendra Nath Misra  Music: Dhruv Ghanekar Starring: Jimmy Sheirgill, Aashim Gulati, Vikram Kochhar, Namit Das, Gyanendra Tripathi, Monika Panwar, Niharika Lyra Dutt, Atul Shrivastava, Harpreet Bindra, Dheerendra Dwivedi, Kishor Chandra Shrivastav, Akanksha Pandey, Nilaksha Budden, Parshu Ram Verma, Sangam Bahuguna & others





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