Exploring the world of men in love and in hate
It was Stephen King that wrote — “the soil of a man’s heart of a man is stonier … (as opposed to the ‘richer garden’ in a woman’s heart).
Kohrra as a detective series on Netflix, is an ode to the inner and stonier world of men — earthier, cruder, colder, more inscrutable, more impenetrable, violent, guiltier, and yet there is love that slimily and wantonly oozes between these stones — this not just lubricates relationships but perhaps enlivens the sordid world of men, offering hope.
Love emerges in the form of illicit desires that men harbour and yet be ashamed of — from homosexuality to incest, sometimes love just furtively lurks beneath the crustiness of stoic dutifulness, sometimes it promises to melt from frozen, sullen, and collusive stances of hanging on to status quo … but it is love in the world of men that makes the series watchable.
Unlike Dahaad, that chose a feministic perspective (refer my blog — https://medium.com/@taowarrior/dahaad-a-review-12a9967503a9), I would want to recommend Kohrra to men first and for several reasons. This is not to say that women will not like the series.
Without giving away the plot, some of the things that stand out are:
The series of Kohrra is set in rural Punjab, rich with its pre-occupations and its entrenchments from the lure of migrating abroad as a wannabe global citizen, the over-arching supremacy of patriarchy, the eroding pride and honour of the warrior Sikh, and the fear of losing ‘land’ — a fear that bolsters feudalism.
The language that paints this canvass is crude, replete with metaphors around sodomy, incestuous role-taking, caste prejudice and what not — definitely not the Punjabi that I learnt from my mother and my grandmother — and yet it enriches the colours that Kohrra seeks to showcase.
The main characters of the narrative are not the ruling elite — the cast of significant characters tentatively and reluctantly emerge from the subaltern and participate in this tale. The producers have also leveraged actors that are not prominent TV or Bollywood celebrities — many of them are unknown and yet flesh out their characters quite poignantly.
· The protagonist is Balbir Singh — an old Sikh and a failed detective to boot — still a sub-inspector in Punjab Police — and counting his days to retirement. Balbir is not eminently likeable nor would a viewer admire him — he is prone to being violent — excessively so towards women, being stubborn, self-lamenting, and entrenched in his empty world. Balbir represents the older generation — fading away into anonymity, and yet it is his passion and desire that brings alive his lust for life.
· Balbir is accompanied by a younger partner known as Garundi — an ASI in Punjab Police who is in obligatory captivity by his elder brother, and his seductive wife, yearning to break free but remains embroiled in shame and dutifulness.
· Balbir and Garundi are asked to investigate the murder of an upper class elite — an NRI Sikh known as Tejinder ‘Paul’ Dhillon — who comes from a rich landed family and to their dismay and angst, keep uncovering how the poor and the marginalised are the usual suspects. The first five of the six episodes lead them to investigate a drug addict, a lower caste truck driver, a beat-up poet, a malevolent ‘bihari’ … the list is immensely exhausting for them — for it is the poor and the marginalised who is to pay for the sins of the elite.
The Complexity of the Narrative
The investigative narrative is enriched by poignant flashbacks that reveal more depth and layers to each of the significant characters. It is difficult to retain a black and white ethical lens for Kohrra looks at the greyness of living — the greys that shroud the inherent ugliness of living, the greys that are a façade to insulate you from the illegitimate yearnings and desires, and the greys that accompany a good detective series.
For example, Balbir works with desire and sexuality — and his character is in 50s — the viewer may have a cringe moment as he makes out with a widow. There are other equally grey characters that do not live up to the social niceties, but come across as human, repugnant yet loveable. If you have liked the True Detective series — then Kohrra is willing to compete for your attention and your time. This is not an empty claim from my side but am willing to stick my neck out.
Kohrra begins with mother earth — the wheat fields of rural Punjab that witness as the narrative starts — a sexual encounter in the fields by two young lovers, and within a few minutes of this unfinished and interrupted coitus, takes the viewer into witnessing death in the adjoining fields.
The use of ‘earth’ and soil (as metaphors of ‘soiling’, and ‘returning to earth’) are interspersed with rural pictures of decrepit houses, shanties within poor neighbourhoods, plastic strewn canals, dark bars for drunken revelries and quarrels, and a modern coffee shop titled American Returned …
There is one exception — Episode 6 takes you back to Udta Punjab — a large farmhouse within fields — a richness that otherwise is missing across the series. As consistent with Udta Punjab, the narrative questions the belief that Punjab is prosperous, by juxtaposing elite havelis with the poverty stricken landscapes.
The Women in the Series
While the TV series is more focused on men, the cast of women characters is not based on stereotypes. The array of women characters is significant and quite diverse.
· For example, Balbir’s daughter confronts him and herself too on the universality of ‘mother’ role that she seems to have been dumped with — she fights ad nauseam on the demands of the role and yet dignifies her stances. Neither is she willing to be the good wife and make peace with having been married to a man who is a younger and sweeter version of her father.
· Balbir’s love interest — a middle-aged widow is equally complex — she makes her advances to Balbir who is paralysed, and much to her peril. She also learns to forgive him for his past. She again questions the stranglehold of patriarchy and says that perhaps it is time to live (and love) for oneself.
· Garundi’s sister-in-law holds him captive with her sexuality but is unable to discern her love for him, and the anxiety that triggers her manipulativeness.
· The victim’s fiancé is purposively committed to migrating away from Punjab into the western world and willing to stake everything else for this purpose. She is ruthless and yet her zeal to run away also evokes respect and empathy.
· It is only the two upper class women who lose their sons, revert back to their mother role and punish themselves for having failed their sons.
Fathers, Brothers, and Sons
Last but not the least, the TV series looks at the world of disappointed and raging fathers, disillusioned and envious brothers, and forlorn victimized sons who never get their due in the world of feudal patriarchy.
The relatedness between men are portrayed with various hues as each man in the TV series struggles with role-taking choices. It is where Stephen King’s quote that becomes most incisive and poignant — the inner world is ‘stonier’ and the stones represent deep hurts and pathos that each man carries within self.
There are several reasons why I am passionately writing this blog on Kohrra — a Netflix series that is seriously bingeworthy.
There has been an interesting pattern of people who are ‘responsible’ for the blog.
· Firstly, this series is produced by a PGP 2002 from IIMA known as Sudip Sharma. Sudip after some years of work with the corporates, got into script writing and made his debut with NH10.
But it was Udta Punjab that left an indelible mark on me — I found the script intensely intelligent and provocative. Interestingly, Udta Punjab was the first film that I wrote a blog on — it was hard hitting, earthy, and memorable. Sudip Sharma is the producer and writer for this series — this I discovered much later — and his signature is quite evident.
· Secondly, the series has been intensely recommended by a batchmate from IIMA — Makarand S was instrumental in getting me hooked on to Dahaad, and consequently has been pushing me to see this gem. I have never known Makarand intimately — but his exhortations have left me with perhaps a deeper understanding of Mak in a surreal yet passive way — I guess that is how men learn to know each other . I look forward to meeting him soon.
· Finally, each episode of Kohrra brought me back into what a teacher and the designer of EUM framework — Ashok Malhotra had emphasized on — that the essence of being human impinges on the interplay of two of the five universes within — UBP (universe of belonging and protection) that serves to offer belonging, safety, and tribalistic membership and USD (universe of strength and desire) that serves to trigger desire, individuality, and power.
Ashok, a PGP from IIMA, has always maintained that the way the two universes are define one’s core persona before it gets layered with other aspects including that of role-taking, purpose, and humanistic imperatives.
Each of the characters in Kohrra are caught in the turmoil of high tribalistic / familial entrenchments and the intense sparks of desire, individualism, and power. Kohrra brings alive the point that high UBP-USD orientation cannot be merely and cognitively discovered. Walking along with the characters has pushed me to explore how I have always striven to walk away from my socialized self (UBP) and how individualism (USD) has been an oasis for me — to be who I am.
I am not ashamed of my past and my roots — but the kaleidoscope of Kohrra brought forth snippets and mirrors that still leave me uneasy with my own identity of a Sikh.
Kohrra invites the viewer to experience and very viscerally so — how the two parts of self can create a verbatim quagmire — a quagmire that never allows you freedom nor does it offer you ethereal beauty and purity — it just sets a narrative that sucks you in, violently so, and yet promises a release or two. Each character in Kohrra journeys through this quagmire, often tainted by its ugliness, its shittiness, and its grip on new choices.
Once you have seen the series, do offer your perspectives and thoughts.