Kohrra is a 6 part series on Netflix that’s being called one of the best binge-worthy shows of 2023. It’s way more than that. If I were you I would not binge on it because each episode is better savoured than hastily chewed.

At first glance, the overt story is about a murder investigation in the gloomy backdrop of small town Punjab ridden with thwarted ambitions, unfulfilled desires, overflowing jealousy and a rotting drug problem. Two average cops with nothing special to boot on the surface level fall prey to their own prejudices and struggle to make breakthroughs in their investigation. But there is also this covert story sewn in the fabric of the screenplay, that attempts to explore the human psyche, without making a statement about it. What’s particularly impressive is how the clues that could solve the overt murder case are sprinkled through the layers of the covert theme of human failings, one of which is, love.

“Love is a bitch. It can make you fall for anyone.” Balbir Singh (Suvinder Vicky), the protagonist declares to his subordinate, Garundi (Barun Sobti), attempting to sum up the central theme of the show. Now how is a show involving a gory murder, in the backdrop of an ostentatiously unglamorous small town, about love? Turns out it is.

An NRI family has travelled from the UK to their village to get their son, Paul, married. A day before marriage he gets murdered while his British friend, Liam is reported missing. The two cops on this case who are under immense pressure, as the victims are foreign nationals, are no heroes. Balbir is jaded by an under-average career, blunted by his small-town mindset and haunted by a dysfunctional family. While Garundi has the advantage of age on his side, he is only as good as his training, which is mostly about beating the “truth” out of poor and helpless suspects. The only thing heroic about him is his loyalty or love towards Balbir, which leads him into planning a daring attack when his mentor is kidnapped.

That’s a narrative that Kohrra subtly weaves all through with its storytelling: Love can make you do unpredictable things, whether it’s a murder, a foolhardy rescue or an attempt to blow up a wedding!

Episode by episode, as the murder mystery unravels slowly, the characters reveal their failings systematically without even meaning to. Paul’s reticent father has the baggage of stifling his son into following his own staunch beliefs, while his younger brother is suffering with silent resentment because he was the primary caregiver for their ailing sister when the elder stayed in London. The conflict has predictably transferred to the younger generation where, Happy, the desi cousin, is envious of Paul for hijacking his father’s love and respect. This has resulted in a misguided attempt to cause a road accident intended to kill Paul.

The soon-to-be bride has broken up with her artsy but directionless boyfriend because she has ambitions to move to the UK. The jilted boyfriend is suffering from heartbreak and dealing with it by writing overtly threatening songs and attacking his rival on impulse. The protagonist Balbir is haunted by his less-than-ideal past while his daughter has left her perfectly normal and good-natured husband without an “acceptable” reason. Garundi lives a suffocated life at home with his brother and sister-in-law, who want him not to grow out of their shadow, from fear of him getting married and claiming his rights over their land.

Walking through this maze of distorted forms of love, the audience needs to pick up the clues of the murder. You wonder when everything else is about love, how can the motive not be? Our two cops with their obvious limitations, might confuse it with the predictable reasons of a land dispute, jealousy or even addiction. Whereas as the involved viewer you are challenged to look beyond the obvious, or at the most obvious, depending on who you are.

There are questions to be asked. Why is Liam missing? Why does the small town’s judgemental outlook on sex, make it to the foreground in almost every episode? And slowly the fog starts to clear. The fog that covers this town is both mythical and physical. It’s not just the roads or fields that are foggy, it’s the handicapped mindset that makes it difficult to see and accept the obvious. This mental fog causes fathers to not see their children, whether the rich and affluent Dhillons or our unassuming middle-class Balbir. It’s the same fog that clouds Garundi ‘s brains into presuming the rapper ex-boyfriend or the drug addict as culprits. While the actual murder takes place in a field shrouded by darkness and kohrra, almost every character in the show has died a little due to the unforgiving fogginess of the constricted social fabric.

Air-tight scripting and excellent direction are complemented by winning performances. Suvinder Vicky’s subdued portrayal of an old demotivated man who goes through short alternative bursts of anger and self-pity or Barun Sobti’s ability to camouflage so well as this generally unremarkable cop who tries hard to hide his emotional temperament with sarcasm and abuses, give the show its heart. The supporting cast is excellent in equal measure and makes almost every scene either moving or jarring for the audience.

Kohrra dares to end with hope. Parents realise their follies and offer small liberties as a testament to the change. Amarpal Garundi gets his happily ever after and Balbir Singh is forgiven for an inhuman act of the past because he faces his devil. The bride gets a second chance at life through a second NRI marriage prospect and the Dhillon brothers end their rivalry. Even through the gritty and sombre storytelling, hope passes through the deliberately constructed cracks and that, as a summation, is what is so special about this Netflix offering.

Written by Tulika Dubey

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