In Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo, Homi Adajania introduces us to a delicious, delectable premise: a handicrafts and jadi-booti business is a front for a drug cartel run by a group of women. The first episode of the show plays out like a fever dream, too many things are happening too fast.
In the arid sands of a fictional Rann Pradesh in Western India, all the storylines you could think of for a premise like this, converge.
This business Rani Cooperative is run by a matriarch Savitri (Dimple Kapadia) and she is expertly aided by her daughter Shanta (Radhika Madan) with a knack for chemistry and her daughter-in-laws Kajal (Angira Dhar) and Bijli (Isha Talwar). The events of Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo are triggered by the return of Savitri’s sons Kapil (Varun Mitra) and Harish (Ashish Verma).
Dimple Kapadia’s act will convince you that Savitri owns the show, the device you’re watching on, and the world.
Her ruthless drive to prove everyone that doubted her wrong in her own version of vengeance is realised completely by a mesmerising actor.
She is supported every step of the way by a strong supporting cast. Madan, Talwar, and Dhar all introduce shades to their character only a deep understanding could help with. Deepak Dobriyal who plays Savitri’s rival in the East is a pleasure to watch as always but isn’t given his due since he does most of his part in hushed, derivative dialogues. Udit Arora as the conflicted-man-in-love Dhiman is another solid offering.
The show has all the makings of a thriller-drama: a drug cartel (and Pablo Escobar references), witty one-liners, rival drug lords, an anti-narcotics officer hot on Rani Cooperative’s tail, and a Succession-esque plot line for the waaris. But in trying to make this show about women and their agency, does it rid itself of the male gaze? At the surface level, yes.
The understanding of feminism and female rage in Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo isn’t performative. Savitri’s aim to empower women around her and run a successful drug cartel are contrasted with her willingness to let her son’s compete for her empire despite the fact that her daughter-in-laws and daughter have given their lives and years to it. She is a human of her circumstance and she reacts accordingly.
With that, the saas-bahu trope we’ve seen for decades on screen is delightfully absent from the show. I believe it’s not a coincidence that the series’ name is reminiscent of a show that deals with the tantalising updates of soap operas where the aforementioned trope is prevalent.
So, where does the issue arise? The ‘strong women’ are all painted with similar brushes: women who want and enjoy sex and fight goons with aplomb.
The sexual agency that Shanta, Kaajal, and Bijli have with their respective partners is seen through the male gaze. The intention is right but the way this intention is presented on screen isn’t. A primary backstory involves sexual violence that is shown with detail for way too long.
At some point Indian content is going to move past the need to put minority characters through gruesome violence to elicit empathy or rage but today is still not that day.
The action set pieces are inconsistent. Some, like the one in the haveli in episode 1 or the murder cut with a musical performance are entertaining for the genre but at the same time, some others come across as mundane.
Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo remains engaging for the most part even as your focus might shift away from the family to more individual journeys.
The show’s biggest folly is that it becomes predictable and loses the charm of the initial episodes. Several scenes will show that the Homi Adajania charm to find the comic and chaos in the macabre is intact but it isn’t enough to raise the show to the level of an unforgettable thriller.
Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.