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Hazy crime, hazy characters, a hazy world created by Sudip Sharma – Beyond Bollywood

With all grey characters, Kohrra [2023] might struggle to pass any morality test, yet the many stories, and stellar acts are hard to miss. Love has no boundaries, yet the complex relationships, adverse actions inadvertently justify the very stereotypes.

Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ? (2.5 / 5)

Barun Sobti and Suvinder Vicky in Kohrra [2023]

By Mayur Lookhar

Phew! Where do we begin? The dichotomy is natural when you promote your show as a ‘differentiated crime noir’. Honestly, Sudip Sharma has made a career out of such content. In an industry that prides in its ‘leave-your-brains-behind’ cinema, Sharma has braved to speak of social, political ills, stereotypes. No empathy per se, but Sharma humanizes the conflict that his vulnerable characters find themselves in. Surely, Kohrra [2023], his latest offering, wouldn’t be much different. Or is it?

The different here is that his two cop protagonists are grey characters. In fact, save for a couple of innocent children, there is not a character that fits the righteous, moral billing. Sr. Inspector Balbir Singh [Suvinder Vicky] looks like a walking dead. The odd occasion when he smiles is when he is with his grandson. He drinks alone or with his colleague Amarpal Garundi [Barun Sobti], often cribbing about bureaucracy, politics, and personal mess.

Later his former colleague Nopi’s wife is attracted by the 50 plus officer. Their cozy act is quickly aborted as Nopi’s aging mother calls out her dead son’s name. We soon learn that it was Balbir who had shot Nopi. He braves to tell the truth to his widow. She is naturally devastated but the final image of this series sees Indira [Ekavali Khanna] open her doors for Balbir.

There’s more baggage to Balbir. His marriage life was anything but rosy. His wife had killed herself. Or was it really a suicide? His relationship with his daughter Nimrat is fragile. The latter blames her father for cutting her wings, marrying her off against her wishes. She didn’t want a child, but barely few years after her marriage, she had one. Nimrat [Harleen Sethi] has rekindled her romance with her college boyfriend Karan Gill [Lokesh Batta]. The day he sees Karan in his house talking to his grandson, Balbir Singh beats the hell out of her married daughter’s paramour. Nimrat has left her husband and is seeking a divorce.

Jeez, this guy (Balbir) is all messed up. Garundi though isn’t having any smooth sailing. He is in a sexual relationship with his brother’s wife. The trio live together. Garundi feels indebted to his elder brother, who had coughed up Rs5 lakh bribe, stifled his dreams, to see his brother in a cop’s uniform.

Garundi and Balbir’s policing is classic danda (stick) style. They thrash the junkies, underprivileged. Phew, in one scene, Balbir grabs an innocent young boy by his tees. Meanwhile, Garundi doesn’t hesitate in grabbing the nuts of toughnuts. Clearly, when pushed to a corner, Balbir and Garundi wouldn’t hesitate in wielding the danda on the powerful too.

Can you trust these loose canons to solve the murder of an NRI groom Paul [Vishal Handa] and the disappearance of his gora British friend Liam [Ivanity Novak]? “F**k, forget the case, these cops need serious help,” the sane, righteous viewer will shout from his living room/bedroom.

The investigating cops have their demons, but the victim and his family, the bride Veera [Aanand Priya] all have skeletons to hide. Phew, what’s that popular Hindi phrase, “Yahan toh puri dal hi kali hai.”

It is unethical to give too much info while reviewing, but the nature of all characters in Kohrra is hard not to point out. 

During a brief chat at the trailer preview, show runner Sudip Sharma revealed that their story is entirely fiction, but the two protagonists are inspired by real cops. It’s fascinating to hear, but is it possible to be inspired by real cops without being moved by their stories? Garundi, Balbir are no Chulbul Pandey, where Salman Khan is said to have been inspired by the bad-ass attitude of some cops that he witnessed.

In some way, Kohrra feels like a quasi Paatal Lok [2020] with an Udta Punjab [2016] undertone to it. (Sharma wrote the Abhishek Chaubey-helmed 2016 controversial film). Righteous characters bring some sunshine to Sudip Sharma’s stories, but Kohrra lives up totally to its foggy name. A hazy story, hazy characters, a complete hazy world created by showrunner Sudip Sharma. The winter smog goes well its convoluted narrative/characters. Jeez, the lone time we recollect seeing the bright sun is when Nimrat is talking to her friend, who is showcasing her riches in London.

The righteous, cultural souls will abhor Sharma’s grey characters. There is an empathy for a Hathoda Tyagi [Abhishek Banerjee in Paatal Lok], but here [Kohrra] there is none for anyone. You don’t despise these characters, but you feel despicable watching them in their conflicts. The have-nots have their share of misery but the privileged are traumatized by their demons too. It sounds all depressing, Yet the narrative and stellar acts keep you engaged. Therein lies the skill of Sudip Sharma, and his director Randeep Jha, who has earlier helmed the acclaimed series Trial by Fire [2023].

Though a slow-burn, Jha and Sharma don’t rush into anything. The investigation is tedious but organic. Save for Paul’s father Satwinder aka Steve Dhillon [Manish Chaudhari], Sharma and his co-writers Gunjit Chopra, Diggi Sisodia rightly take time to reveal shades of their suspects. Varun Badola’s Manny Dhillon, [Steve’s younger brother] is an intriguing character. As always, the unsung Badola is flawless.

Barun Sobti is very popular. He has impressed in Asur [crime series]. He’s played a cop before, but never have we seen him in this rooted cop avatar. The stubble is natural but the twirling moustache is refreshing. It perhaps makes him look more Rajasthani than Punjabi. The tone, his body language, particularly his roving eyes draw you to a Garundi. The emotional Sobti isn’t needed here, but the actor adds to his growing reputation.

Suvinder Vicky

He’s a known name in Punjabi films, but this is our introduction to Suvinder Vicky. He is all intensity, trauma personified. Vicky does well to bring out the internal turmoil of his character. His policing is not for the faint hearted but a Balbir draws you with his personal conflicts. You want to empathise with him, but when you see a visual of a younger Balbir beating his wife, you are immediately turned away from this man. Then he draws you back with the professional stresses. If first impression is the last impression, then Suvinder Vicky left us stunned with his virtuoso performance.

Harleen Sethi (L) as Nimrat in Kohrra [2023]

A word of praise for Harleen Sethi and young Aanand Priya who are mightily impressive. The latter shakes you with her cries when she is beaten by a female officer into revealing information. The real disturbing scene is when the female cop isn’t afraid to reveal in front of Veera and her parents that their daughter was giving oral sex to the deceased Paul few hours before he vanished.

Vishal Handa and Aanand Priya

Lagaan [2001] fame British actress Rachel Shelley makes a log due return as Clara, the mother of the missing British national Liam. We don’t know how much camera she faced in the last 22 years, but we found Shelley a little rusty in Kohrra.

Kohrra moves like a slow-burn but largely keeps you engaged. It scores high on the technical front too with immersive production design, fine cinematography and limited but pulsating BGM. A script that is largely penned in Gurmukhi will naturally appeal more to the target belt but it would be naïve to rule out rest of India from catching a glimpse of Kohrra.

The tension really hits a fever pitch in episode four and five. You expect a gripping final episode but it turns out to be a damp squib. Pyaar gandu hai. Netflix, Clean Slate Filmz were perhaps compelled to replace asshole [gandu] with bitch. In the end, most conflicts in this series all boil down to a ‘pyaar gandu hai’ weakness. For five episodes, you believe that the Sudip Sharma series is silently carrying the Rainbow flag, but the deep-throat revelations, adverse reaction inadvertently fuel the very stereotypes. Sadly, the kohrra [fog] is too thick for any sun to shine.

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