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what the

fog hides

Written By Purvai Aranya

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Reading Sudip Sharma's 


Warning: this review contains spoilers.

5th Feb 2024 .  6 min read

Murder mystery show Kohrra (translation: fog) (2023) begins in a field shrouded in morning fog. These fields of Punjab play a recurrent role in this series that is deeply rooted in the geography it is set in. One of the writers spent 15 years in the region shooting for a documentary, so the creators’ access to authenticity is clear as the show unfolds. The fog is an apt metaphor for mystery: it prevents you from seeing clearly until you get close enough. It hides large objects/truths from you in seemingly plain sight. It is not the first time the foggy fields of Punjab are being used as a visual motif to explore the gritty cultural reality of the state – Gurvinder Singh’s Anhey Ghorhe da Daan (“Alms for a Blind Horse”) comes to mind. The fog invites us in even as it conceals the field from us. The absence predicated in the blankness of the fog is an important character in this story: it is what the investigators can’t see because of their own blind spots. 

The fog in the first scene doesn’t conceal the couple having sex in the field. Through the fog, we can hear the incessant barking of a dog. The woman, who doesn’t seem to be enjoying herself, asks the young man in Punjabi what he’s doing, and then asks him to hurry up. She has a class to go to. In unexpected tenderness, he asks her to sing for him. “Have you gone mad? A song today too?”, she asks, exasperated. The barking continues, until the man gets up in anger, to go beat the dog into silence. It can be argued that this is what the show is about: interrupted intimacies and the almost helpless anger of men. The woman pleads and screams and follows him: the barking leads them to a dead body in the fields, a remnant of the night’s thick fog. The central question of the murder mystery has been laid out.

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The rest of the show follows the two policemen protagonists, Balbir Singh and Garundi, as they try to uncover the double fold mystery: the murder of Paul, an NRI about to be married, and his missing best friend. Unlike the usual snappy pace of murder mysteries, this show moves slowly, focusing on relationships, conversations, and entanglements. It quickly seems like the mystery being solved isn’t just the murder we’ve been confronted with, but the entirety of the foggy landscape of Punjab.  Though the story begins after the murder has taken place, there is violence embedded in nearly every scene. And since there is no singular easy path to the resolution of the mystery at hand, each of the violent threads is followed to find reasons, histories, and explanations. The absence at the heart of the movie turns out to be the queerness that was given no space in this cultural landscape to survive, let alone thrive.

All of the characters have to grapple with the violence of the particular patriarchy that is found here. The masculine, aggressive landscape of Punjab is the background and foreground of everything that happens. This is a show about men’s interactions and negotiations with one another, skills they seem to have never been taught. They are all suffering under the burden of masculinity, which is why the intimacies they do create feel so heartwarming. When Balbir Singh and Garundi have long conversations by the fireside, it feels like a warm, present reminder that vulnerability and intimacy are possible, even for them. But in daylight, back at the police station or in Balbir Singh’s own home, both these men package up their gentleness and beat other men viciously. It seems to be the duty of the women, as well as the audience, to constantly have to witness the anger of men. Despite that, the women in the show (like the women in life) constantly find ways to assert their agency, even if it means attempting suicide, like Balbir Singh’s daughter Nimrat. She leaves her husband for no reason other than lovelessness, an act that society and her father cannot begin to comprehend. And when no other doorway seems open, she tries to take her own life. When she fails, she uses the opportunity to say the things to her father that he would never be able to hear otherwise, thus opening up new possibilities for herself and her life. 

The ideal family lives only in posed photos. Reality is jagged and burdened with the past.

The first episode ends on a happy montage of the engagement between the victim, Paul, and Veera, his wife-to-be. The photos and videos create a perfect mirage: a family in perfect Indian clothes, dancing together, celebrating the institution that holds this entire social structure together. Outside of the framed images, the family is full of cracks and splinters: possible murder suspects are the bride-to-be, as well as the victim’s uncle and his son. The victim’s father is accused of being the real culprit by the women in the family at the end since it is his inability to accept his son’s queerness that caused the disasters the characters are reeling from. The mirage of family is only held up by their unspoken promise to each other – that they will keep each other’s secrets. That promise is brought to test under the relentless questioning of the police and the media. There are many kinds of families in this show, all tied together by that same promise: Garundi has a strange but tender sexual and romantic arrangement with his sister-in-law, a truck driver who accidentally hit Liam has a younger apprentice called Toti whom he is attached to. All these relationships become dependent on the upholding of convenient narratives. But inconvenient narratives have

a way of emerging from the fog.

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While this show shows us the shadows of rural and urban Punjab with a sharp look at the cultural underpinnings behind all murders and mysteries, it remains unable to move past the dominant stories of the men on screen. While cultural realities remain stark, the creator of media always has agency in where they point their camera and which stories are highlighted. In Kohrra, we see the endlessly replayed violence of men towards each other, towards women, towards people of lower classes, and towards themselves. While the show points towards the existence of alternate masculinities by showing us a glimpse of queerness, to place that queerness in the keyhole of the mystery is a cop-out. Since the suspense about the mystery must remain, the queerness is hidden from the audience until the last possible minute, and then we are shown a single scene of intimacy between Paul and Liam, at the desperate moment where Liam ends up attacking Paul. Queer cultural commentators have been speaking for years about the futility of only seeing queer characters on screen who end up dying or being viciously killed. Where are our visions of queer and female futures and presents where alternate ways of life thrive on screen, or at least find a way to survive oppressive environments? The answer to the mystery remains unsatisfactory, since instead of a singular culprit, we find the fog has killed two people. The fog in which a bus accidentally hit Liam after he killed his lover, and the metaphorical fog of outdated and rigid cultural beliefs that made their relationship unviable in the first place.

Almost as soon as the dead body is discovered at the start of the show, the media arrives, frothing at the mouth. Everything in this day and age is for an audience. This is a story about violence and intimacy, touch and desire, as much as it is about witnessing, both public and private. The media crowd is so thick it conceals the father of the victim, but Balbir Singh and the audience are both compelled to hear the father’s screams of pain when he finds out. It is often Balbir Singh’s role through the movie to witness the pain of families dealing with loss and uncertainty – and know that he has been tasked with fixing this pain by discovering the cause of it, and by preventing such future pain. But he is hardly equipped to take on this task. Sudip Sharma, the creator of the show, has been exploring in multiple shows the liminal space between society and lawlessness that policemen inhabit. He calls them “fascinating characters sitting on the cusp of crime and civilization.” But they are rooted staunchly in the society they are brought up in, and their prejudices determine what kind of justice they are able to enact.

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