In the era of Barbenheimer where pink is the colour of money -- comes an earthy crime thriller on Netflix that not just holds its own but also punches beyond the dusty by-lanes of the North Indian state of Punjab where the story unravels.
Kohrra (fog) opens with a dead body in a field, but it is the cacophony of nuances around the incident that itself at times recedes into the background, which is hard hitting like a cold December morning.
The Punjabi- Hindi series is raw and unfiltered, as though with its crown of thorns Punjab is both the story and the storyteller, its characters as far removed from Bollywood’s glorious mustard fields and Karan Johar’s cinema as the state itself is to its past glory.
People that were once prosperous and proud but have their resilience broken come alive not just through the complexities of relationships but also the humane face of the drug haze that steers clear of the ‘Udta Punjab’ clichés.
Waiting for Godot
Balbir Singh played by Suvinder Vicky is the quintessential Punjab Police sub-inspector, you will see many like him in towns such as Phagwara or Ludhiana, what usually remains hidden is the face behind the uniform.
Any Punjabi will tell you that their police force is always a step away from ignominy, Balbir knows it too. His deputy Amarpal Garundi played by Barun Sobti is the bad cop to Balbir’s silent cop and together they try and shrug of a burden that isn’t just about solving a murder.
An NRI back home is found dead on the eve of his marriage and the crime takes Balbir and Garundi on a journey that opens back stories, windows where light is struggling to peep in and doors that need closure.
The fiancee of the murdered Paul gets engaged to another Indian residing in Canada barely days after his death, but Veera is matter of fact, I need a better future she tells her struggling lover.
It’s a theme the ordinary Punjabi identifies with as he waits for the tide to turn. Those who know they are waiting for Godot take the next flight out.
Grey, unflinching, and real
Through the statues of planes and birds proudly displayed on brick homes in Punjab’s villages, families announce how members have flown abroad to escape drugs, unemployment, or both.
Small towns and villages of Punjab are littered with hoardings of travel agents and tutors, it is all a one-way ticket and in this desperation are also stories of families duped of all their savings by unscrupulous agents.
2.6% of the Canadian population is now made up of Punjabis leaving behind only the elderly to till the traditional farms. Once called the ‘Granary of India,’ the state is empty both of coffers and dreams.
It is this landscape that the two cops traverse in search of answers. In the end, questions are everywhere: of a society where gender binaries destroy families through secrets, in the looming shadow of cultural patriarchy that goes beyond rural and urban divide and of a practice in which only money doesn’t grease palms.
In the exchange of favours, regret is more for the system than the innocents killed. This is no scare mongering, the characters are grey, unflinching, and real.
The tragedy of drugs in Punjab goes beyond the three million who consume it, it is about pervasive loss and stumbling hope. A small village called Sansarpur was once the centre of hockey after it gave India 14 Olympians.
Current hockey players from Punjab are those who escape chitta (a local lethal cocktail of drugs including heroin) as it ravages talent and the ordinary without a preference. It is this pathos usually hidden behind a generalisation of Punjab that the series also exposes.
Once flourishing as the land of five rivers, there have been cases where sons have killed their fathers in the trance of addiction. Maqboolpura a village on the outskirts of Amritsar is the face of Punjab’s misfortune, with their men lost to drugs it is referred to as the village of widows. In big and small towns alike, phone numbers for de-addiction centres are pasted on innocuous trees and poles.
Damaged products of the system
Outside of the plot, the stellar direction and acting even by the supporting cast, Kohrra also spotlights how correct casting isn’t indebted to big names. Barun Sobti tells Gulf News “I would attribute the show’s critical acclaim to how well written the content was and to the ability of the brilliant makers to bring out the best performance from each and every character.”
Suvinder as the hapless and occasionally helpless policeman whose eyes do much of the talking has deservedly found the recognition he richly deserves. He owns every bit of Balbir Singh. Sobti as the younger and more enthusiastic Garundi who lets his punches do a lot of the talking while just wanting a simple family life is his perfect foil.
His moment comes when he releases a man wrongly detained and thrashed in jail, ‘sorry yaar,’ he says with genuine remorse to the bruised and beaten man. Both though are damaged products of the system.
‘In your career you will only get three-four chances, don’t let them go,’ Balbir Singh tells Garundi once. He could just as well be talking to the people of the state some of whom like Balbir know their finest hour may never come.
Through the angst, despondency, and a desperation to succeed, Kohrra is a note on behalf of a people flawed but yearning for love. The murder is solved but the drama’s real essence is the lives that a single event touches. This series could mean different things to different people and that is its beauty.