The Indian police procedural noir “Kohrra” (“Fog”) is the latest hit for streaming service Netflix.
The six-episode Punjabi and Hindi-language drama sank to the top of the Netflix India chart on July 15, where it remains in pole position for a second week. It also charted highly on the streamer’s top 10 charts across much of South Asia and the Middle East.
In the show, when a groom from the UK is found dead days before his wedding, two cops must unravel the disturbing case as the turbulence unfolds in their own lives. The cast is led by Suvinder Vicky, known for the Cannes title “The Fourth Direction” and the Venice festival title “Milestone”, and Barun Sobti (London festival title “You Are My Sunday”, JioCinema hit parade “Asur”).
The series is created by Gunjit Chopra and Sudip Sharma, who previously collaborated on the hit Prime Video police series “Paatal Lok” (2020), and Diggi Sisodia, co-creator of Zee Studios’ Berlin Series Market Selects series “Brown”. The director is Randeep Jha, whose feature film debut was the Eros Now original film “Halahal” (2020), starring Sobti, and who went on to direct episodes of the popular Netflix drama “Trial by Fire” (2023).
The genesis of “Kohrra” came from Chopra, who previously helped Sharma research his groundbreaking script for “Udta Punjab” (2016), which looked at drug addiction among youth in the northern Indian state of Punjab. The main characters are based in part on real life people, including police officers, whom Chopra had closely observed.
“I was actually trying to say something about Punjab, I had a lot to say. So I thought maybe I can find these two characters to just say what I really want to say. And it didn’t come through for years,” Chopra shared Variety. “The spiritual mother of this was ‘Memories of Murder’ [“Parasite” director Bong Joon Ho’s 2003 film]. Once I saw that movie, I said, “What if two cops come to a field and find a body there, and then everything goes back.” I had the story in mind and the killer in mind. But then I didn’t have much, but I had a lot of experiences.
Chopra was engaged to write dialogues for “Brown” and then he met Sisodia, to whom he told the concept of “Kohrra”. “When we came up with the story, the bottom line was that the murder and the murder investigation would always be the peg on which we would hang the bigger story, which was a story about the lives of these characters. And you went in the dirt under the nails of these people’s lives and the complications of their families and all the screwed up things of their personal lives,” Sisodia said. Variety.
Chopra and Sisodia pitched it to Sharma, who was initially hesitant to embark on the project as he came off a four-year journey on ‘Paatal Lok’, which is of a similar genre. But he was hooked when he read the first treatment. “It wasn’t fully fleshed out, it wasn’t all there, but that was the exciting part of it – that I could contribute and help it realize its full potential, its intentions and possibilities to talk about Punjab and these very endearing characters in a very authentic, never before seen way,” Sharma shared. Variety.
Sharma had liked “Halahal” and sent the pilot and beat points of some episodes to Jha, who was recording “Trial by Fire” at the time. “I read it and I felt it is something different from all the other crime shows we see today. The approach is different, very nuanced, very detailed and very subtle,” said Jha Variety.
Since 2021, Indian streamers are required to adhere to a self-regulatory code, of which the government provides guidelines. “Paatal Lok” sparked controversy as parts of it looked at Indian politics, while another Prime Video show, the political drama “Tandav” was met with controversy.
“Telling socio-political stories or stories with a critical socio-political context. We saw a little bit of it in ‘Paatal Lok,’ but ‘Tandav’ was when it really flared up and then it became this whole problem, but surprisingly, Netflix was very supportive and they came on board quite early,” Sharma said. “The other thing we did, you could call it a little self-censorship, or just give in to the times, but we’ve turned the lens inward on this one.”
“Before that, my work has really tried to understand the macro of society and politics and the intersection of crime and the different institutions of society. But in this one we really trained it in and we’re like, ‘we’re going to talk about politics in the family, about politics in interpersonal dynamics’, and I think that probably helped us get away from some of these otherwise controversial elements. Left to me I honestly would have gone much deeper,” Sharma added.
Sharma says that while it was possible to make a bigger socio-political comment about Punjab, which was ruled for two consecutive terms by opposition parties and not by the centre’s dispensation, the team stayed far from it. “If you shine a light on it and say, ‘this is what we’re talking about in the larger context,’ I think that freedom has been gone lately,” Sharma said. “You just talk about a certain phenomenon and a certain character, you probably get away with it, but drawing bigger conclusions is problematic.”
The team loved the process of making “Kohrra” and would love to do a second season. “Audiences love a great crime drama, which we have seen with the huge success of titles like ‘Khakee: The Bihar Chapter’, ‘Delhi Crime’ and ‘Rana Naidu.’ “Kohrra” masterfully explores the dynamics of family and relationships against the backdrop of crime and societal complexities,” said Tanya Bami, series director at Netflix India. “Sudip Sharma’s deeply layered and delicate storytelling, complemented by the rich performances of one of the strongest ensemble casts, has moved audiences and critics alike. The response to ‘Kohrra’ has been very encouraging and inspires us to continue telling such deeply rich stories.”
Meanwhile, Chopra and Sisodia finish the bible for a new crime series. Jha pitches a comedy movie script and develops a Shakespearean drama series along the lines of ‘Succession’. Sharma has completed the shooting of season 2 of “Paatal Lok” which is set to bow in mid-2024.
Sharma, Chopra, Sisodia and Jha are represented by Tulsea.
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