Homi Adajania’s eight-part web series, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo (Disney+ Hotstar), revolves around women breaking bad in a fictitious town in northwest India. Savitri (Dimple Kapadia) runs one of the most powerful drug cartels in South Asia. Her illegal business is cloaked by a handicrafts cooperative populated with battered and bruised women employed by Rani Cooperative. These women are no pushovers. They are as adept with sewing needles, test tubes and Bunsen burners as they are with guns and daggers.
The delicate balance of Rani Cooperative is about to be shattered on three fronts: an attack from rival cartels, fronted by Monk (Deepak Dobriyal), and by the return of Savitri’s US-based sons Harish (Ashish Verma) and Kapil (Varun Mitra), and a zealous anti-narcotics officer with a chip on his shoulder closing in on Savitri’s cartel.
The sons, thus far oblivious to the family business, are confronted with the scale and truth of their mother’s illegal enterprise when she declares that it’s time to choose an heir. In contention are her two sons, her daughter Shanta, her two daughters-in-law, Bijli and Kajal, and her adopted son Dhiman (Udit Arora). Shanta (Radhika Madan), the youngest child, is the foreign-educated brains behind the chemical composition of their much-coveted drug, with the street name Flamingo. Sexually empowered and confident, she marches to her own beat. Bijli (Isha Talwar) is hiding her queer identity behind her heavily kohl-lined eyes. She steadfastly serves her saas (mother-in-law) but is unable to fake intimacy with her perpetually intoxicated and foolish husband, Harish. Kajal (Angira Dhar) takes care not to capsize the boat while harbouring her own hurt, including keeping things sweet with husband Kapil. Dhiman is the obedient fixer.
There are some contrived contests to create a fight for the throne but since Savitri shows little affection for her family, the game of thrones gets lost in the various side plots. Harish and Kapil’s arcs serve as a measure of transformation and the brutal impact of the colossal truth bomb. Writers Saurav Dey, Nandini Gupta and Aman Mannan focus on a few back stories and pad the script with dispensable stories like narcotics officer Prashun’s (Jimit Trivedi) personal life and a French chemist (with a painfully fake accent) who plays both Savitri’s love interest and Shanta’s mentor.
The saas and her succession plan is the story here and Dimple Kapadia is terrific as the survivor, low in the caste and class order, who has taken a big bite out of male-dominated business while fighting back (literally) against a violent and unjust society. Talwar, Dhar, Verma, Mitra, Madan and Arora effectively play the potential successors to the multi-core empire.
As a crime and family drama, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo lands somewhere between Aarya, Breaking Bad and Succession, with a tonsured Deepak Dobriyal, reminiscent of Kancha Cheena of Agneepath, thrown into the mix. As Monk, drug lord of the East, Dobriyal’s killer motivations are unclear and an attempt to keep up the intrigue only serves to make him a parody. Naseeruddin Shah’s character is pivotal and placed to play a greater role in the coming season.
Adajania scores in his world building, in setting up his characters, especially in those scenes that don’t depend on dialogue. It’s refreshing to watch Indian content that isn’t leaning on conversations, overstatement and exposition. A gripping series with some interesting performances is hampered by asides, a number of set pieces and obvious plotting that leaves you unsurprised by the gunshots, wayward bullets and bloody screams. More of which can be expected in a likely season two.