A sight far too common in most Indian shows based in Northern India—which is most of them at present—is the disquietingly menacing dance they all choreograph between the parochial and the prejudicial. We see these familiar themes explored in the Netflix crime thriller Kohrra.
If it is a show that involves marginalised communities, the chances of them being engulfed in a haze of pessimism increase exponentially. Any scope of happy endings becomes slimmer than David Rose’s comprehension of tax write-offs in Schitt’s Creek.
But at least David got to celebrate love in all its riotous glory, an indulgence often denied to queer couples in the fictional scapes of Indian films and series. The latest to join in on the anti-queer joy campaign on our screens right now happens to be Kohrra (The Fog). The entire onus of depicting queer love with rainbows and sunshine does not lie with Kohrra, but it raises the question: Where are the well-crafted stories of queer joy in India?
In a country where queer representation on screen remains a complex and multifaceted issue, the Indian Punjabi-language series Kohrra exemplifies the prevailing reality: India is no country for queer joy, not yet, anyway. Of course, there are the privileged bubbles and pockets that provide safe spaces for those who dare to live their truth out in the open. But there are way too many liminal spaces that hang between progress and retrogress.
What is Kohrra about?
Created by the astutely observant Sudip Sharma (who wrote films like Udta Punjab and Sonchiriya) and deftly helmed by director Randeep Jha, Kohrra boasts an ensemble cast led by the talented Barun Sobti, Suvinder Vicky, Harleen Sethi, Rachel Shelley, and Manish Chaudhary, who breathe life into their characters. You empathise with their grief and pain and react to their shameful behaviour in visceral ways, but still, some plot holes leave you baffled.
Despite being a largely enjoyable whodunnit, Kohrra succumbs to the familiar trope of portraying queer love as an unfortunate entanglement, entwined with tragedy and toxic abuse from its very inception.
With evocative cinematography by Saurabh Monga, Kohrra immerses viewers in a world where moral ambiguity infects every character with a lingering grimy sourness in the Punjab air, as the series explores the dark underbelly of a state plagued by drugs and violence. Nothing that is beautiful or nonconformist can thrive here without eventually withering and dying a ghoulish death.
The story begins with a couple in the throes of passion in the middle of a field—a familiar meeting spot for lovers in rural India where concepts of privacy only exist for newlyweds who have the weight to procreate with arid urgency. The maddening barks of a dog disturb them, only to lead them to the discovery of a corpse lying in a field across from their love nest. The body belongs to Paul Dhillon (Vishal Handa), a young NRI boy who had come to his ancestral town of Jagrana to get married. His childhood friend Liam (Ivantiy Novak) is mysteriously missing.
Where things unravel in Kohrra
Balbir Singh (Suvinder Vicky) and Garundi (Barun Sobti) are tasked with solving the two cases before the UK government and media get wind of it. It seems implausible that they get more than a fortnight without any international press picking up the news, even though it involves two British nationals. And local reporters using drones as well as other increasingly invasive tech and tactics to leak sensational bits of the unfolding murder case.
It makes very little sense that Liam’s mother, Clara (Rachel Shelley), patiently waits for two junior cops to rake through a twisted trail of red herrings—set up exclusively to keep the audiences guessing till the end to set up a grand revelation that felt like a bit of a tepid cop-out at best.
Clara also sits on a crucial piece of evidence until the last scene when she reveals to Balbir that Liam left her a voice note from the night of the mishap all along. It is not explained exactly how much she comprehended from that fateful note, but it is presented as the ultimate missing piece of the puzzle, which miraculously helps Balbir put everything together.
Why we need more joyful representation of queer love
While it is commendable that Indian productions are embracing and boldly navigating through the many pitfalls LGBTQ+ relationships face, it remains disconcerting that positive representation and felicitous denouements for queer characters remain elusive.
The 2019 Shelly Chopra Dhar film Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga and Harshavardhan Kulkarni’s Badhaai Do are two rare outings made by mainstream Bollywood where we see somewhat of a wholesome representation of queer love. But even then, they leave much to be desired.
Instead of basking in the vivid tapestry of love, passion, and bliss that thrives within the queer community, Kohrra relies on the destructive narrative that queer stories necessitate suffering and anguish. When will Indian fiction stop focusing on queer tragedies, where the main friction arises solely due to identity politics?
In stark contrast, illustrious shows like Schitt’s Creek have showcased the transformative power of illuminating queer joy, extolling love and acceptance with an authenticity that resonates. By amplifying the more ebullient facets of queer experiences, cine stories can inspire and enlighten audiences, fostering empathy and comprehension without getting preachy about it.
When Patrick’s parents discover he is gay in Schitt’s Creek, they are stricken that their son couldn’t come out to them sooner. They question themselves and their parenting because Patrick didn’t feel they provided him with a positive enough space to confess right away.
In Schitt’s Creek, the ups and downs of David and Patrick’s life together involve a whole gamut of experiences that fall within the scope of human existence. The main obstacles on their road to a happy ending seldom concern their sexual identities. It may not be realistic in certain settings, but it is aspirational, it is inspirational, and it is a fairy tale everyone deserves to see themselves reflected in.
Representation constitutes the whole spectrum of existence for particular individuals. Straight love inspires stories of tragedy, triumph, passion, and everything in between, as heteronormative relationships are celebrated in all their glory, from the good to the ugly.
At this juncture, it is paramount for Indian shows and films to extricate themselves from the prevailing cycle of tragedy and, instead, choose to revel in the kaleidoscope of queer joy in all its splendour. It is time for queer stories on Indian screens to graduate. We have seen the horrors. Now can we have the hurrahs?