In a scene from Netflix’s Kohrra, two cops share common misery. “Ye pyaar badi fu**u cheez hai,” says the senior, who has come to a kind of personal revelation. There is no learning in life without living with the consequences of social illiteracy. You can’t really accept love until you’ve perhaps tried all the avenues to hate. For most of us, it symbolizes a kind of final surrender, a point from which it becomes impossible to bear both grudges and wounds. For others, however, it is the point from which life begins. Set in Punjab amidst the state’s NRI population, Kohrra is also a studious, sometimes caustic analysis of love and its violent, more desperate offspring. Hate, anger, jealousy, the show argues, are simply distillations of an emotion we tend to refer to through benevolent lenses. Wipe it clean and you see a whole different world.
Kohrra follows two police officers, Balbir and Garundi. Balbir, played by Suvinder Vicky, is a relic and an old cog in the country’s law enforcement machine. Unfulfilled potential, a failed marriage and a rebellious daughter weigh on the elderly man as he compensates for his diminishing physical strength with the rousing intensity of his face. Balbir is supported by Garundi (Barun Sobti), a young loose gun, who physically harasses people. The two must investigate the death and disappearance of Paul and Liam (an expatriate), who had come to India before the marriage of the former. The investigation into the case is a fairly routine examination of India’s lopsided justice system, except that the men and women caught in trouble are anything but. So compact and studious is written here that the mystery of one fateful night only acts as a bumper sticker to a deeper, more awkward revelation of love’s many hot-blooded, questionable manifestations.
Kohrra, created by Gunjit Chopra, Sudip Sharma and Diggi Sisodia, is a comprehensive overview of a land cursed by stark cultural contradictions. Privilege and poverty coexist as escape takes the form of a needle or a plane ticket. A restaurant called ‘Amreeka Return Cafe’ returns in the show; a cultural Xerox of American diners, it reflects the paradox of Punjab, a place where as many people are willing to die as they are willing to leave. It is this paradox that becomes the cultural manual for this intricate drama that, true to Sharma’s history as a creator (Pataal Lok and Udta Punjab), is not afraid to stare at the sun. Provocations are easy to imagine, as sex, violence and drugs sometimes underline in graphic details the loneliness of those who struggle to fit in. Here, the bandage of performative sobriety reveals far more serious injuries and injustices than the central investigation of a crime. . The victim and perpetrator are often the same person, approaching life through contrasting vocabularies.
Tight direction, a vast but convincing script and exceptionally well-developed characters add flesh to a brooding visual language. The story successfully mines the culture, be it imagery or music, and is aided by a near-perfect cast. Varun Badola and Manish Chaudhuri are excellent as unruly patriarchs trying to raise seemingly gentle sons in a toxic monoculture that overdoses on visas and drugs in equal measure. Suvinder Vicky is brilliant as a waning cop, the only one in the series other than Paul, with a flashback that specifically portrays him as a victim of his own making. As if living with all that resentment and guilt is just as painful as living with a knife to the heart. There’s probably no way to fix anything before you bleed to within an inch of your life.
While Vicky is excellent, Barun Sobti as the confident, restless young cop is extraordinary in a performance that will last through the rest of 2023, some do on stage. He is unnerved and coarse, a one-man punching machine, whose enthusiasm echoes a certain tragicomic beauty. It’s a groundbreaking performance for an actor who’s quietly put together a commendable resume over the past few years. Here he really steals the show.
Kohrra may have the evocative skin of a true crime mystery, but it’s rooted in the essence of drama. Full of living, breathing characters, authentically emulating the quirks and tone of a culture, this is a six-episode sojourn in the bleak depths of human fallibility. Even his ugliness swears by some kind of decayed beauty. It’s also a story that strives to comment on our understanding of love, on the unfulfilled prophecies that people will come into existence without ever actually living them out. After all, love is this strange emotion that stays in sight, but never quite in sight; this inexplicable shapeless thing that can be seen differently, often at the same time by the same two people. It’s exactly why Garundi declares to Balbir, half drunk, “It’s strange how we don’t understand our own families for a lifetime.” Kohrra is a masterful story that somewhat clears that fog. However, the choice to watch what it reveals remains ours.
Kohrra is now streaming on Netflix.
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