There’s been a handful of political satires made in the Hindi cinema space. The prominent examples are Peepli Live and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro. These two are cult favorites, and not many filmmakers have been able to tap into the genre. The new Netflix India Original created and directed by Pushpendra Nath Misra, Choona is a political and social satire set in the heartland of Uttar Pradesh. The show was released on September 29, 2023, on the platform.
Choona is a Hindi word that essentially means quicklime, but in the context of this eight-episode-long show, it means to cheat. The show is set amidst a hotbed of politics when State Cabinet Minister Avinash Shukla is on the verge of destabilizing the current Chief Minister, paving the way for himself to be the next leader of the state. Avinash is ruthless and religious and is vocal about his ambitions. The man is halfway to achieving his biggest dream when Yakub Ansari, JP Yadav, Informer Triloki, and Police Inspector Baankey—decide to discreetly take revenge against him. Avinash has humiliated these men just because he could and these men decide to get back at him by looting the bribe money he accepted from a construction company. Some other associates join the gang because of their agenda against Shukla. Will these people be successful in carrying out the heist, or will the extremely sharp Shukla catch on to their plan? This forms the crux of “Choona.”
Choona has a good start, and it sets the tone for the political game of thrones that is going to begin. There are several back-and-forths between political allies and enemies that are presented most realistically. The complexities around political parties, their ideologies, and the in fighting have been written with a lot of depth. There is structure provided to the screenplay that allows viewers to not get confused, even though a lot of names, characters, political parties, and jargon are thrown in to make the viewing experience life-like. Since this show is a satire as well, it would be hard to believe it if all these incidents mentioned in the show did not happen at some point. Most of the time, these stories get buried in some obscure section of the newspaper.
The most graceful part of the show is the voiceover by Arshad Warsi, who allows us to discover the nitty-gritty of the politics that take place and gives his perspective on the situation. This voice is a great addition to this show because it allows the audience to view the situation from a neutral point of view. Since all politicians are morally flawed at some level, there is no black-and-white character in this show.
It is interesting to see the lead antagonist, Avinash Shukla, given a lot of space to grow as a character. There is brilliant character development, and it helps the audience understand what made him the man he is. The character development of the other leads is done in a meticulous yet tight fashion. One could feel that the history that connects them to Avinash Shukla will probably overstretch the narrative, but thankfully that does not happen. Writers Srishti Dubey, Pushpendra Nath Misra, and Mugdhaa Ranade stay level headed with the screenplay and do not let anything derail the show at any point.
It is interesting to watch how in-depth the analysis of the political scene in the Hindi heartland of the country is. Kudos to the makers for allowing the audience to understand the landscape instead of going overboard with characters. Many makers tend to overwhelm the story with too many subplots, but in Choona, thankfully, the makers did not inundate the narrative. Political stories are supposed to help the audience understand the law of the land. The makers also did not oversimplify the political backdrop. The screenplay did feel overstretched in parts, but thankfully, that did not affect the overall length of the show.
The power game that goes on and the inter- and intra-politics are the highlights of the show, and the writing here remains good enough to keep the narrative engaging. The comedy is a part of the narrative, and not once do the humorous parts seem stale or forced into the screenplay. It flows smoothly and delivers good laughs throughout the runtime of the show. The dark comedy, which is usually an element in satire, is very evident in this show.
The direction by Puspendra Nath Misra is in full control of the screenplay that he has created. The same director gave us Tajmahal 1989, another Netflix original from 2020 that explored the same heartland but was a mix of romance and politics. In Choona, the director does not allow the story to get convoluted. Puspendra Nath Misra is a good director, and this show is proof of that. It will be exciting to see what projects he has lined up in the coming years.
The cinematography by Will Humphris and Aditya Kapur is simple but allows the audience to get a peek into the complex lives of people who are scheming and plotting to get into the big, bad world of politics. The dialogues are the highlight of the show. The lines given to Arshad Warsi are excellent and very rooted. The same could be said about the lines given and enunciated by other actors. In some places, it does feel like the makers overdid the dialect of that region, but that does not hamper the viewing experience.
The performances are the highlight of the show. Jimmy Shergill as the merciless Avinash Shukla is terrific throughout. He generates an aura of fear just through his confidence and presence. The casting done by Mukesh Chhabra is excellent, as is the case with many shows based in the Hindi heartland. Aashim Gulati, as Yakub Ansari, takes time to settle down as the character from Uttar Pradesh. Monika Panwar as Bela is terrific as the no-nonsense woman who is unwilling to let anyone else make decisions for her. Namit Das is the informant, and Chandan Roy is Bishnu, Shukla’s brother-in-law, who is seeking vengeance for his sister’s untimely death. This is an ensemble cast that delivered very grounded and fine performances.
Choona is a good watch because it allows the audience to understand the core of our social-political structure and how dirty political games can get. Give this show your time, it will grow on you.