Director: Pushpendra Nath Misra
Cast: Jimmy Shergill, Aashim Gulati, Vikram Kochhar, Monika Panwar, Namit Das, Chandan Roy, Gyanendra Tripathi, Niharika Lyra Dutt and Atul Srivastava
When Money Heist dropped on Netflix, it became a benchmark of sorts for other heist dramas. To be fair, after two seasons it could not keep up the momentum and too went south. No, no we are not suggesting that Choona, a heist dramedy, is a rip-off or even takes its inspiration from the Spanish series. Rather it is as desi as it gets. Why the title itself is totally indigenous.
Set in fictional heartland of India, where wily politicians and trigger-happy goons appear as commonplace as superstitions and beliefs, it takes you to corrupt politician Avinash Shukla (Jimmy Shergill). He rules the city with Machiavellian manipulations; buys and sells MLAs and appears more omnipotent than even the Chief Minister of the state. All the devious acts of this jyotish buff are aligned to the planetary positions. Astrology is as much a character as the politician who swears by it. Buoyed by his planetary charts, drunk on arrogance and political power, he rubs more than one person the wrong way.
One by one we are introduced to his enemies, most of whom, except Yakub Ansari (Aashim Gulati) and Baankey (Gyanendra Tripathi), have little in common. Indeed, it sure is a rag-tag of players, misfits as Netflix promos say and losers as the writer-director Pushpendra Nath Misra proclaims. Ansari is a fearless street goonda with lofty aspirations to become the Chief Minister. Baankey, his best friend, is a constable. Namit Das as Triloki can wander off into any direction and become anything he cares to. A mute brother-in-law Vishnu (Chandan Roy), a disgruntled contractor JP (Vikram Kochhar) and a pandit (Atul Srivastava) presumed dead too join hands and the six of them set about to achieve the implausible; rob Shukla to the tune of Rs 800 crore. Pray how? Now, the answer to that delectable question could have been truly tantalising, high on thrills if not chills.
But the boon of OTT often becomes it bane. The beauty of OTT lies in how its ensemble cast is not just a footnote. Backstories lend flesh and blood to its characters. But here the digressions are far too many, not just by way of backgrounders but also romance. The two female characters Bela (Monika Panwar) and Jhumpa (Niharika Lyra Dutt), have spunk and brains. They play a key role in pulling off the heist as well. Only by the time we actually come to the point, the actual heist, much time has been spent in getting to know the characters. Not to say that the build-up to the robbery is absolutely dour. Triloki’s tantric makeover is thoroughly enjoyable. The writing too sparkles. Chori karne ke liye purane adarsh jaag gaye… muses Arshad Warsi whose voice doubles up as sutradhar providing insight and lacing the drama with wisecracks. An interesting enough narrative device, only if the voiceover had been employed sparingly, restricted to only satirical remarks, it would have had a greater dramatic effect. Instead Warsi’s commentary veers between profound and rather basic.
And that is the problem with the series too. It oscillates like a pendulum; now thrilling now dragging, now humorous now tepid, now riveting now distracting. What does not flag are the performances. Shergill is in top form, not only when he is dealt a winning hand, but also when he is on a losing wicket, his expressions are remarkable. Aashim Gulati, last seen in Taj: Divided by Blood, carries the swag of his part with élan. Das is brilliant as he does more than shape-shifting. Misra’s shaping of his characters might be uneven, yet he manages to pepper his narrative with fair amount of fun and merriment. Thus even when the storyline digresses, the maker who gave us Taj Mahal 1989 is in control. Of course, while we chuckle and smile in most parts we can’t suppress that yawn either. Perils of long format…. it allows makers the luxury of overindulgence. If you have the luxury of time, you too can indulge in this Netflix series which is more of a comic caper and less of an edge-of-the-seat heist thriller.