At a time when institutional efficiency to deal with crime is declining, the role of the police, judiciary and central investigative agencies is under question because of their pro-power approach. Crime-based web series on OTT platforms, however, try to tell a different story.
They portray the institutions and how they function in a different light. It makes the viewer question their understanding of these systems. These representations could be explained as part of the politics of hegemony. Given the vast disparity between fiction and reality, it becomes crucial to treat this genre of web series, where these agencies take centerstage, with greater seriousness.
Crime thrillers have become a major entry point to reflect upon the politics, economy, culture, and society as a whole over the last few years. To name a few: Sacred Games (2018), Soni (2018), Delhi Crime (2019), The Family Man (2019), Paatal Lok (2020), Dahaad (2023), Kathal (2023), and Kohrra (2023).
We have a surplus of web series that deal with a crime and the policeman or policewoman’s journey in search of the culprit. In the process, they deal with the intersectionality of caste, class, gender and sexuality. This year’s series, Dahaad and the film Kathal, start with a crime and evolve into narratives centred around women who face dual disadvantages of caste and gender.
Kohrra, too, commences its narrative with a powerful punch. From the outset, the series integrates the theme of murder, presenting a sex scene in the opening of the first episode that swiftly transitions to the unsettling discovery of a dead body. Unlike mainstream Bollywood-ised Punjab, Kohrra presents a distinctive social and cultural landscape of the region.
Romance in “sarso ke khet” has been replaced with murder in “sarso ke khet”; a big fat Indian wedding has been the site of the death of the groom on the day of the wedding. It presents an entirely different reality of Punjab.
In this Punjab, love is struggling to breathe. Before Kohrra, several other films and shows centred around Punjab, such as Udta Punjab and CAT, have delved into issues of violence driven by drug trafficking, politics of secession, desire for transnational migration and consumerism. What’s new in Kohrra is the way these different sources of physical violence enter the private domain and become a cause of emotional violence. It explores the struggles and tragedies of love. It is not easy for an individual in a patriarchal, consumerist, neo-liberal Punjab to fall in “true love”. The politics of heteronormative sexuality and gender also are constitutive of the obstacles to love.
Another interesting aspect of the series is the way it breaks different binaries. Binary of being good or bad, emotional or rational, and brutal or ideal. It unapologetically affirms the desire of a young mother whose motherhood was imposed upon her. The series breaks the binary of a “good mother-bad mother” and doesn’t portray the mother’s denial of the imposed role of motherhood as something vicious. It deconstructs the depiction of the ideal mother.
Secondly, from the beginning, the series portrays Paul and Liam facing the challenges of heteronormative patriarchy and the impossibility of homosexual love. But in the end, even the homosexual desire is not very clear. It problematises these sexualities and brings out the dilemma of unconventional desires. We see a confused Paul finding pleasure in conventional heterosexual intimacy. This way the series breaks the binary of straight versus queer desire. Instead, it depicts the internal tensions of queer desires.
Thirdly, it breaks the binary of love-based marriage or marriage as a means of migration to a foreign land. The unapologetic representation of Veera punctuates the point, subtly. In each of these grey characterisations, it refuses to pass an evaluation or judgement.
Feudal family romance has always been the central theme of Hindi cinema and soap opera and it represents the metaphor of the nation. A great family is a representation of a great nation. The internal domain of a family, vis a vis, this nation is always compact, cordial, and mutually trustworthy. Kohrra breaks this trope. There is discontent and disquiet in each relationship. The narrative of love, devotion and self-submission within the family (and nation) has been replaced with that of power and hierarchy, mutual distrust and loss of the self.
But the longing for love remains, despite all odds.
In Kohrra, the private horizons of relationships are constantly struggling, collapsing. These could be interpreted as fragments of the nation.
Lastly, Kohrra is not just vague and dark. It also pulls us out from the darkness of the impossibilities of love and takes us on the journey of possibilities and hope. Balbir Singh and Amarpal Jasjit Garundi’s friendship signifies that hope. Their journey to find the murderer is a journey of self-realisation. The realisation that the real culprit resides in the grand alliances of patriarchy and neoliberal consumerism. This brings about their transformation. Suddenly, Kohrra transforms into a narrative of longing for love and liberation. The narrative that seems embedded in Punjabi subculture becomes cosmopolitan — one of love and human liberation.
Kohrra is important as it registers the presence of liminality, dilemma and paradoxes in our everyday life and relationships. Paul’s death brings to the fore, the various paradoxes that exist within each of the relationships including Balbir’s and Gaurundi’s personal relations. It establishes the redundancy of these institutions in a society where the real culprit is patriarchy. Even the most powerful administrative agencies find it impossible to fight against this culprit. Last but not least, Kohrra affirms the banality of these institutions by showing the viewer that only longing for love and happiness can liberate us.
The writer is Assistant Professor, Allahabad University
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