An American diner in Punjab. This image – concise in its own absurdity – strikes us Kohraa new procedural thriller streaming on Netflix starting July 15. Co-created with Sudip Sharma (Patal Lok, NH10) and directed by Randeep Jha (halal), it follows two Punjab police officers who investigate the death of a young NRI in the countryside. The central mystery opens a window to all things Punjab: migration, feudal skirmishes, drugs, consumerism. A connecting theme, Sharma emphasizes, is love, which transcends age, class, family and sexuality.
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“Between two seasons of Patal Lok“I was apprehensive about doing another investigative drama,” Sharma says. “I was afraid of becoming a one-trick pony.” He was approached by writers Gunjit Chopra and Diggi Sisodia with the initial idea for it Kohra. co-wrote Udta Punjab with Abhishek Chaubey many years ago, Sharma knew the terrain, so it’s not the texture or mysteries of the plot that attracted him. “I was more interested in the interpersonal drama between the characters. At some point I realized, oh, we’re doing a love story, or multiple love stories within a mystery.
Suvinder Vicky (Flour Pathaar, Chauthi Koot) and Barun Sobti (Asur) play the protagonists Kohra, and find some warm buddy agent chemistry. Sobti, the youngest of the pair, had previously played an inspector in director Randeep Jha’s debut film halal (2020), another grim, slow-paced thriller. Still, Jha wasn’t sure if Sobti could speak the raw, reliable Punjabi required Kohra (the series is in Punjabi, Hindi and English). “I wanted a strict non-Bollywood casting,” explains Jha. Sudip had suggested Barun’s name to our casting director Nikita Grover. When we talked to Barun, we found that he knows Punjabi very well.”
Barun Sobti as Amarpal Garundi in ‘Kohrra’ | Photo Credit: Joseph D’souza/Netflix
The series was shot in and around Ludhiana. The makers were parked there for five months trying to see Punjab through the eyes of the locals. While searching for a primary character’s home, news of the brutal murder of a sportsman arrived in a nearby hamlet. “It’s a stark reality out there… that athletes are used like muscle,” says Jha. A more famous murder – of legendary rapper and controversial folk hero Sidhu Moose Wala – took place in the Mansa district of Punjab while the crew was stationed in London on a limited schedule. “The Goras (British) looked at us and wondered who had died,” Sharma recalled. “More than the drug scene, Punjab’s gangland scene has really come up in the last decade.”
Moose Wala’s songs – while they would have fitted well with the show’s setting and themes – are not featured in Kohra. Instead, Sharma turned to the tracks of his colleague and sometime producer Wazir Patar. “I discovered Wazir Patar’s music when I started writing Kohraa. There was something new and yet so rooted and authentic about it. The texture became the inspiration for the show’s soundscape.” Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar (Udta Punjab, Sonchiriya, Patal Lok) composed the background music.
Two of the narrative threads in it Kohra revolve around land heritage, a common concern of Punjabi society. Though a small state in terms of size, Punjab traditionally has large parcels of land divided by family. “If a typical land holding in Uttar Pradesh is one hectare, in Punjab it would be 10 hectares,” says Sharma. With the breakup of farming families into modern, nuclear units, the country is fragmenting into smaller and smaller farms. For the generations that move away, land becomes a way to hold on to your traditions, your culture, the makers note. “While Punjabis have the largest NRI population in the country, I think the Punjab population is more modern than many of the NRIs because the NRIs hold much more to their roots and traditional values,” Sharma added. “It’s almost like India is still stuck in the 80s and 90s for them.”
Sudip Sharma, Randeep Jha follow a shot at ‘Kohrra’ | Photo Credit: Joseph D’souza/Netflix
Sharma, during his eight-year association with Clean Slate Filmz, has taken a close look at the many fault lines in Indian society, whether it be patriarchy (NH10, May), caste and communal violence (Patal Lok) or institutional apathy (Kohra, all of the above). His yen for gritty, well-researched police procedures positions him as something of an Indian David Simon. (“He’s one of my heroes,” says Sharma demurely The wirethe creator.) Patal Lok (Prime Video) was one of the most critically acclaimed shows of 2020, and also the most controversial. Ever since – and further intimidated by the right-wing backlash to Tandav (2021) – streamers have avoided explicitly political content in India.
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“The space for socio-political storytelling is dead,” says Sharma, who is currently wrapping up post-production Patal Lok season 2, bluntly admits. “You can’t tell political stories anymore and that’s the honest truth. Personally, I find my work very political. And if I can’t explore that side through my art, it all feels pointless. That’s why I do a show like Kohra, where I can at least explore the politics of love and human relationships. The idea is to channel it inwards.”
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