Starring Suvinder Vicky and Barun Sobti, the Randeep Jha-directed series Kohrra is currently among the Top 10 shows on Netflix
Harleen Sethi as Nimrat in Kohrra; (images courtesy: Instagram/@itsharleensethi)
Netflix’s new slow burn murder mystery series Kohrra has been garnering a lot of positive response ever since it dropped on July 14. A raw setting, compelling storyline, fleshed-out characters and some brilliant performances have helped the show become the talk of the town.
Created by Gunjit Chopra, Sudip Sharma and Diggi Sisodia, and directed by Randeep Jha, the story of Kohrra begins when an NRI groom is found dead in the fields of Ludhiana days before his wedding. Now, two local cops - Balbir Singh and Amarpal Garundi (played by Suvinder Vicky and Barun Sobti) - must solve the mystery, as they grapple with their own turbulent lives.
Also read: Kohrra review: Suvinder Vicky, Barun Sobti's excruciatingly slow whodunnit is much more than a usual murder mystery
Actress Harleen Sethi - who is best known for her work in shows like Kathmandu Connection, The Gone Game and Broken But Beautiful - narrates the role of Balbir’s daughter Nimrat in Kohrra. Her troubled marriage and a rather bitter and violent equation with Balbir has drawn a lot of attention and empathy toward her character in the series.
In an exclusive conversation with OTTplay, Harleen opens up about what makes the character of Nimrat so special to her, why she credits OTT for more relatable narratives and well-etched-out roles, her upcoming projects and more. Excerpts:
Q. Kohrra has been receiving some great reviews from the audience and critics alike. How does it feel?
A. It’s been an overwhelming experience. Just recently, I was with some of the cast and crew members promoting the show, and were discussing the same thing. Of course, we were confident about what we made, but nobody thought aisa bomb phatega. We made it with a lot of honesty. However, we didn’t expect such an overwhelming response.
Q. You recently described Nimrat as a ‘part of you’; a character that brought you closer to your Punjabi roots. Would you elaborate on that?
A. This role is very special to me. First, because of the wonderful team I got to work with. Starting from screenwriter Sudip Sharma [best known for his work in Paatal Lok, Sonchiriya, Udta Punjab and NH10], with whom I really aspired to work, having been a big fan of his filmography. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t have missed. I loved the script when I first read it. Itne pyare characters likhe hain unhone, with every role being etched out so well. I think aise team ke saath kam karne ka mauka, as actors, hamein nahi milta hamesha; itni achhi script hamesha nahi milti.
Second, this show is in spoken Punjabi language. And I am Sikhni from Mumbai, who has never got the chance to actually speak Punjabi so fluently. I was born and bred in Mumbai, so even with parents, extended family and friends, the communication has mostly been in Hindi or English. So in a way, Kohrra brought me closer to my roots. It was quite special for me that my family could hear me speak Punjabi. Kohrra was shot in Ludhiana, and that was a high point for me. Wahan ki mitti ki khushboo; wahan ke khet, canals made the entire experience very special for me.
Apart from that, Nimrat is a well fleshed-out character that intricately shows a father-daughter relationship. It was quite an intense character to narrate and, in a lot of ways, it was tough for me to play it. Having said that, I also feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to play Nimrat, and in many ways she’s very special to me.
Q. From The Gone Game and Kathmandu Connection to Kohrra, you seem to have dabbled in quite a few crime/mystery thrillers. How much internalising did it require to keep these characters nuanced and in perspective?
A. I think har character ka apna ek maza hai. They all might be thrillers, but these are all completely different parts. In The Gone Game, I played Sharmila Sangama, a CBI officer, and I got to work with one of my favourite directors - Abhishek Sengupta. I really loved being a part of this project.
This role was again very different from Kathmandu Connection, where I played a spy named Tasneem. The look of this character was unique, and I loved working with this team. Ajay Rai was associated with this project, and I wanted to work with him. Then came Kohrra, which has thriller elements, but can’t really be categorised under that genre alone.
All these have been very distinct roles that I have played in different shows. So more than the genre, it’s the intriguing characters that motivated me to take up these roles. My focus has always been on what I will get to learn from the character I play and the team I am with. For instance, in Kathmandu Connection, a lot of experimentation had been done with my looks - be it in terms of the wigs or the lenses I wore. And it’s not necessary that you look beautiful on screen everytime, but it’s the part that you get to play is more important.
In Kohrra again, there was a no-makeup rule on the set. So, these projects/characters make you lose all your vanity. They say ki aap actor hai, toh aap actor hi rahiye. Such experiences encourage you to work on your craft and hone your skills further.
Q. Suvinder Vicky recently said that he apologised to you before shooting a slapping scene in Kohrra. Tell us about your experience working with the actor?
A. Most of my scenes in the series were with Suvinderji. And interestingly, the way his character is portrayed in the series - very calm and composed - in real life too, he’s the same. He likes to stay focussed on his work and doesn’t like to hurt anybody intentionally. But the characters we played onscreen did involve a bit of physical abuse, so he kept asking if it’s okay or is it going out of line. The scene in which Gola goes missing was the first scene we shot together, and there was a bit of hesitation or awkwardness. But then we sat down and discussed that we will do the best we can for the camera. While doing that sequence, I got hurt and there was a bruise on my arm, for which he apologised later. But it wasn’t anything intentional, so it’s okay. He’s actually a great co-actor and gives you the space to enact your role the way you want it. So, mujhe unke saath kam karne mein bahut maza aaya.
Q. The OTT space is making space for diverse stories and characters that were barely explored earlier. How do you perceive this medium?
A. I think, as artistes, we are living in a blessed time. Unlike earlier, the focus now is more on narratives than anything else. Whether you are in front of the camera or behind it, it’s kind of the most congenial period for all artistes and technicians. Characters like Nimrat are penned and being recognised onscreen by the audience - what can be a better time than this! Earlier, other than the stars or those essaying the lead roles in a show or a film, characters were either not etched out as much or their arc was missing, but that isn’t the case anymore now.
Screenwriters are getting the opportunity to be more imaginative with their content. And I can’t tell you how happy we feel about it - whether it’s the musicians, writers, directors or actors. Everyone has a free hand now to whatever they enjoy doing. So, I think OTT has changed people’s lives a lot. I mean just recently, I was sitting with six-seven of my other actor friends and all of us are doing some or the other project. This wasn’t the case until a few years ago. After the pandemic, there has been a huge change in the way we work in the industry which, in turn, has brought in a lot of positivity among us. Most people are either learning something new or exploring something. Nobody is sitting jobless at home. Many are getting to do things that they love the most. Thanks to OTT for the platform that it has given us. The digital space has created a level playing field for us.
Even in terms of Kohrra, the kind of positive response that we have got for this series from industry greats - like Hansal Mehta, Anurag Kashyap and Karan Johar - has been very encouraging. It wasn’t like this earlier. In films, not every character was noticed or spoken about. But OTT is enabling everyone to see everyone else’s work, and if there is good work happening, people are appreciating that too. That, I consider, a welcome trend.
Additionally, web shows give you six-seven or four-five hours worth content. This, in turn, allows a character to be developed with greater detailing, making space for the actor to enjoy working on it too. And that’s something that all the artistes are genuinely in favour of.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming projects…
A. My next is a medical drama which will, hopefully, be released sometime in October this year. I am playing a surgeon in it, and it’s a lovely piece of work done by Jio Studios. I am looking forward to it, mainly because a lot of people have also been waiting for me to be part of a love story too. Set in a hospital, this show has all those elements.
Then, there is a Disney+ Hotstar project that I worked on with filmmaker Milan Luthria. Hoping, that’ll also be out later this year. Recently, I also finished shooting with Abhishek Bachchan for an Amazon Prime Video original film, which will probably be released only next year. It’s directed by Remo D’Souza.
These comprise my upcoming projects, but I am also very keen on seeing the kind of roles that’ll be offered to me after the positive response we have received for Kohrra. I am looking forward to working with directors whom I have always aspired to collaborate with.
Q. You seem to be quite the traveller. Does that help you get better at your craft?
A. Yes, I really enjoy travelling, and that’s because I believe in enjoying living. Travelling to different places and meeting different people creates unique experiences and perspectives in life, which again helps me in improving my craft. When you travel to a new place, you meet new people and get to explore their locales, culture and food. Travel ka ek chaska hai jo ek baar lag gaya toh chhut ta nahi hai.
I am also somebody who generally likes to keep everything raw and real. I don’t prefer putting filters on my Instagram pictures or trying to connect them with something. Even the reels that I make - be it from the set while doing makeup or otherwise - I just put them out the way they are. I think my goal as an actress is also to be relatable; to reach out to people. I want to convey the message that if you work with honesty and dedication, you can achieve anything in life and nothing can stop you. A pimple on your face or a scar cannot be a hurdle for you. It’s important that you love yourself and have faith in your skills and strengths, and always keep chasing your goals.
Through my acting, I am trying to do stuff that is more socially relevant and might inspire somebody to bring about some positive change in their lives. Before Nimrat, many told me that my character in Broken But Beautiful (Sameera) inspired them in a lot of ways. Now, many in Punjab are finding Nimrat very relatable. So, that’s been my goal too - to pick roles that despite being flawed or complex are real/relatable, and their journey inspires you to transform yourself in some way. That, I consider, would be a big win for me. So yes, it’s kind of a process for me - to travel to different places, explore and experience new things, and then employ those learnings in my craft.