The new Netflix show Choona follows a ragtag group planning a heist against a common enemy. Writer-director Pushpendra Nath Misra’s eight-episode is headlined by Jimmy Sheirgill as Avinash Shukla, an unscrupulous, ambitious politician from a small town in North India.
Avinash relies on three things to get ahead – his sharp mind that has earned him the nickname “Calculator”, hard cash and, most importantly, astrology. He has an unshakeable, obsessive belief in planetary movements, the zodiac and vastu shastra, wearing a gemstone on every finger and practising every ritual. His circle of trust includes an astrologer (Atul Srivastava).
The series starts off with the suggestion that Choona is going to be yet another story about corrupt politicians, goons and political game-playing. But there is a tonal shift when student leader Ansari (Aashim Gulati) teams up with bankrupt building contractor JP (Vikram Kochhar) and slighted constable Baankey (Gyanendra Tripathi).
Over time, they induct the thief Triloki (Namit Das), an astrologer, an inside man and tech support. If Shukla is plotting his ascent to the post of Chief Minister, this team is plotting his downfall. How do you cheat the biggest cheater of them all?
A narrator stiches together numerous characters and subplots – childhood friendships, clandestine love affairs, real estate deals, small-time politicians, childhood trauma and long-festering hatred. Misra uses visual effects and graphics to show the planets, their movements and moods and create an in-show VR experience.
The voiceover, by Arshad Warsi, is dominating and distracts from the events, especially in the initial episodes. Overall, Choona suffers from exposition. The planning of the heist – where the thrill and fun could really have been – is skimmed over.
Jimmy Sheirgill pitches in with a controlled performance, portraying a ruthless character who deserved more layers and shades. As henchmen with vendetta on their minds, Gulati, Tripathi and Das play their distinctive characters with a delightful pinch of mischief.
Chandan Roy, who was so good as Vikas in Panchayat, amps up the comedy as Shukla’s mute underling Bishnu. Monika Panwar, familiar from Jamtara, is Baankey’s fearless sister Bali, one of two female characters with agency in this comic drama. The other is Triloki’s girlfriend and tech whizz Jhumpa, played by Niharika Lyra Dutt.
Choona is largely an impish caper laced with comments on blind faith, manipulation, political scheming and horse trading. Two wrongs can make a right, at least for some people.