It won’t be an understatement to say that the “Gangs of Wasseypur” duology and “Sacred Games” (at least the first season) are two of the most influential pieces of art. When it comes to the big screen, stories were told one way before Anurag Kashyap’s magnum opus, and things completely changed after its release. Web series used to be of a certain kind before Kashyap and Vikramaditya Motwane’s show, and then they became mostly about crime, lovemaking, and the intertwined nature of politics, entertainment, and the law. It’s difficult to say if any of the movies or shows managed to surpass the quality of the aforementioned projects, but there’s no doubt that a lot of storytellers tried to recapture their magic instead of doing their own thing. On the surface, “Saas, Bahu, aur Flamingo” is no different. However, as you keep going deeper into its twisted narrative, you see a glimmer of hope that Disney+ Hotstar has struck gold.
Homi Adajania’s show revolves around three sections of society: the antiheroes, the villains, and the law. Rani Ba, or Savitri, is the head of the antiheroes and the owner of Rani Cooperative in “Saas, Bahu, and Flamingo.” Rani Cooperative appears to be a small handicraft company that sells toys and organic herbs. But it’s actually one of the biggest producers of cocaine (nicknamed Flamingo) in India. Savitri has three children of her own: Harish, Kapil, and Shanta. Harish is married to Bijlee. Kapil is married to Kajal. And then there’s Dhiman, who is apparently Savitri’s adopted son.
Kajal is in charge of handling the workers of Rani Cooperative. Bijlee is the treasurer. Shanta is the one who perfects the cocaine. Dhiman and Cheema (Savitri’s right-hand man) are the enforcers. On the villainous side of things, there’s Munk, Dil Samson, and Sahebji, all of whom have their eyes on Savitri’s business while fostering some kind of personal vendetta against her. When a batch of Flamingo almost kills the son of the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Proshun from the Narcotics Division enters the picture and tries to get to the root of all this.
Homi and writers Saurav Dey, Nandini Gupta, and Aman Mannan are definitely dealing with a lot of topics. Given that it’s one of the first things that we see in the series, they are talking about queer relationships and how they’re still looked down upon in India, be it rural or urban. Going by the overwhelming presence of drugs, the series highlights how we love to act all pious and “cultured,” even though every section of the system is responsible for the accessibility and manufacturing of illegal substances. They do put a “is it a boon or a bane?” spin on it because the popularity of narcotics ensures that Savitri and the women working for her, most of whom are widowed or single mothers, become independent and respected.
That brings us to the most obvious themes: patriarchy and casteism. The very existence of the Rani Cooperative serves as a big, fat middle finger to the system that tries to oppress women (especially women hailing from a minority community) at every chance it gets. Every woman in there brings with herself a story of abuse and how they turned it into one about resilience. However, despite all their power, determination, and rage, they have to depend on men since they occupy certain pivotal positions. And since that can be infuriating, the writers give us two male punching bags in the form of Harish and Kapil, who symbolize male privilege and ignorance.
The likelihood of “Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo” standing out amongst its peers or simply being something memorable depends on how well it treats the aforementioned subjects. Without giving away too much, in an attempt to justify the feminine rage aspect of the show, Homi and the team go into explicit detail for a scene featuring a forcible violation. And just to hammer home the message, they bring it up multiple times, as if the first time wasn’t impactful enough. When they show it for the third time, you have to question whether the show actually wants to talk about these topics in a sensitive way or if it is being exploitative.
Savitri’s fight with Munk is supposed to represent the constant threat women face while being at the top. But this threat is always so far away and superficial in nature that it doesn’t generate any kind of tension or interest in the rivalry. The repurposing of the doomed queer romance trope feels logical because it underscores India’s bigotry, but the repetitive nature of this style of storytelling across all forms of media makes it look lazy at this point. However, when “Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo” is not commenting on social topics but revolves around the family drama that has been ignited by Savitri’s decision to choose a successor, it becomes much more intriguing. That’s because we all know a Boomer who has gone out of their way to mess up the family dynamic for no solid reason.
The world building in “Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo” is quite fascinating as Homi Adajania and his team slowly unravel the mysteries locked in its castles, tunnels, dolls, and fauna. It creates a contrast between Savitri’s family life and her family’s professional life. The overall cinematography, editing, production design, costume design, and hair and make-up work are top-notch. There’s not a single frame in the entire series that feels cheap or fake. There’s a staggering degree of authenticity to the look and feel of the show, and the team should be applauded for their attention to detail. The action direction is surprisingly good, as it utilizes the strengths of the actors in question while also pushing them out of their comfort zones.
Almost every single member of the cast is perfect. Dimple Kapadia is fantastic as the calm, calculated, and occasionally vulnerable matriarch. Isha Talwar is cold as ice throughout the show’s 8-hour runtime, and when she explodes, you know that things are serious. Angira Dhar oozes confidence and strength, most of which is to hide her emotional side. Radhika Madan is the most aloof of the lot. But she dials things up to eleven whenever it’s needed. Varun Mitra aptly portrays his characters’ disillusionment, while Ashish Verma annoyingly chews through every scene, with the high point being his “bad trip” sequence. Udit Arora steals every scene he is in. Jimit Trivedi does a decent job of unpacking Proshun’s descent into madness. Vipin Sharma is alright. It’s nothing special or offensive (since he’s playing a South Indian stereotype). And while the supporting actors manage to bring their A-game, Deepak Dobriyal sticks out like a sore thumb. I guess he’s trying to work against typecasting by taking on villainous characters, and he hasn’t found his groove yet. I hope he learns from his mistakes and keeps trying.
As if it’s not evident from the title, “Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo,” allow me to point out that Homi Adajania has tried to mix the daily soap-esque drama with an international drug trade that has been built on the backs of women. It’s an interesting concept, and it works for the most part, especially when the show chooses to make these minute observations about how men and women react to the same circumstances. As a character study, it’s pretty engaging, thereby giving its twists the right level of surprise. Whenever the show broadens its horizons to resolve certain conflicts, it becomes a little too simplistic and derivative. As mentioned before, the cast more than makes up for these shortcomings with their acting prowess, with Dimple Kapadia deservedly taking up most of the spotlight. And despite my qualms about the show, I’m interested in seeing where Adajania and his team take the story in the next season, which I hope is nicknamed “Saas, Bahu aur Pink Unicorn.” With all that said, since what you’ve read is just my opinion, I request that you watch “Saas, Babu aur Flamingo” yourself on Disney+ Hotstar and let us know what you think of it.