Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo review: It's like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi getting a revamp as it's injected with a high dose of drama, drugs, violence, and badassery!
Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo review - Do you remember those days when you'd sit for lunch after school and you figured out who the new Mihir was going to be or what Komolika was planning? Yes, the 90s kids' childhood pretty much was full of these saas-bahu dramas where a bold and independent villain was plotting against the fam and a damsel in distress bahu would be fighting off everyone to keep the family safe. Whether you hated or loved it, you definitely couldn't have avoided it! Homi Adajania brings back that high-octane drama that we were all hooked onto once with a new perspective, and a revamp on the whole regressive saas bahu narrative in this one! Though it does stumble one too many times.
The series revolves around four inimitable women, the magnetic powerful matriarch Savitri (Dimple Kapadia), her loyal and fiesty daughters-in-law Bijli (Isha Talwar)and Kajal (Angira Dhar), and her 'scientist' daughter Shanta (Radhika Madan) who live in Hastipur - a forgotten village in the north-west. Savitri runs a company named Rani Cooperative, trading products ranging from jari-booti balms to textiles. But everything here isn’t what they seem to be. Turns out, this cottage business is just a front for the biggest drug cartel being run in South Asia. Amazingly this is hidden from her two sons, Kapil (Varun Mitra) and Harish (Ashish Verma) while her third son Dhiman (Udit Arora) who is adopted, holds a secret of his own and there's a secret kept from him too.
The baby produced by the mix-up of Succession, Narcos, and GoT with Mirzapur, Aarya, and the Indian soap dramas bring it exceptionally close to looking caricature-like. It seems like the creator and director, Homi Adajania is a lot influenced by foreign as well as Indian shows and wanted a bring an amalgamation. Something that combines the rooted traditionality of Kutch though not in real essence but with a stylistic urban approach. Based on a fictional desert land somewhere on the western front of India, Rann Pradesh works if you give in to the so-called world created without many questions, especially about the story and the structure. Because a lot is happening altogether, and not in a well-balanced nuanced way because, at one point in time, you feel exactly like the two sons- dazed and confused just taking it all in.
Everyone is modeled after an already existing world or over a cliche from the characters to the plot (which is hard to keep track of). A huge chapter is taken from Succession's plotline of choosing a waaris where each and everyone in the family, yes this one also has three siblings, fights to sit as the head of a 500-crore empire including the matriarch who is not really willing to leave her gaddi. And considering that the world is set up in a not-so-known desert, giving the creators full liberty of creative license, where incest, family, sex, drugs, violence, and gender play a huge role seems quite similar to GoT or Mirzapur or Aarya. The involvement of an anti-narcotic chief trying to capture the biggest drug ring run by these overtly clever women selling homegrown cocaine that is impossible to grow in India is straight out of the book Narcos. Though while you place where it all might be coming from the originality of the eight-episode series is still maintained.
Even though this is a world where power resides beyond a gender construct and is morally ambiguous, yet it is abundantly clear that the women who run this world are germinated out of the mind of a man. Hence the male gaze no matter how much Adajania tries to keep in check, seeps in. These women no matter whether free, independent, or sitting at the table running it, still can’t escape the deep-seated patriarchy. As they exactly behave the way men do in their positions whether it is utilizing sex as power or being the ruthless matriarch head of the family. This isn’t necessarily bad, just begs to ask the question- do women have to behave like men when they finally get to sit at the head of the table considering the society that we live in?!
The eccentric domineering Rani Baa, a messiah to women and the homeless in Hastipur, works in the same old fashion patriarchal way. And just like one of her bahu, Kajal gets the same background story of a classic case of femme fatale proving that sacrifice and trauma are generational for women. The monotonous track of helpless and sad queer Bijli not properly explored or finding space. The way completely out-of-zone 'chemistry whiz-kid' Shanta (modeled after Shiv from Succession) behaves is just another version of a spoiled brat son. Even Rani Baa’s choice of sheltering her sons from the dirt of the drug game and suddenly letting them enter into it, irrespective of the bahus doing all the dirty work till now, reeks of the indifference that keeps on bordering. So much so that the bahus have to literally out loud say “fuck this farak” and plot for their safety and haq.
But irrespective of the assumption’s female narratives, the badassery with which these women run their businesses and work throughout the whole traditional cum urban approach of the series is entertaining and whistle-worthy. This is where you get to see women wearing black ghagra choli fighting with style, pizzaz, and guns! But the major highlight of the show lies with the overturn of the regressive approach of the saas-bahu narrative. It is clear that the femininity of a woman is not seen as a sign of weakness or hiding behind spineless men or turned completely into testosterone high but is rather celebrated. The saas-bhau-beti running a successful drug cartel without even the men of the house knowing about it and fighting as badasses colored me impressed! Sure the gaze of the series is manly but not at all gimmicky. For instance, when a woman goes under the dining table while everyone's eating food to kill the last of the goons, she does so with grace, subtlety, smartness, swag, and the support of other women which speaks everything about being a woman.
But in comparison, the men in the show are borderline stereotyped. The two 'sensitive-delicate' sons with fragile masculinity- Kapil and Harish are modeled after Succession's Kendall and Roman but are nothing like them because they are presented with too much pity and man-childlessnesses. At best they become someone like Arturito from Money Heist, thinking of themselves as ‘man of the house’ or ‘protector of women’ but are just existing to irritate the shit out of everyone from people in the show as well as outside. The other adopted son Dhiman quite similar to Daulat from Aarya is the only true man who neither underestimate the women of the house nor is boastful of his manhood.
As for the rest they are too fixed on one line path for the sake of the story. The anti-narcotics officer, Proshun (Jimit Trivedi) modeled after Pedro Pascal from Narcos goes mad over the obsession of capturing the drug cartel. While the east drug king-pin, the Monk (Deepak Dobriyal) modeled somewhere between Sanjay Dutt from Agneepath and Voldemort is a manic which arose from negligence. And the south drug king-pin (Vipin Sharma) is just a sadist that is as cowardly as he enjoys seeing others battles. Still they all makeup for an interesting addition within stereotyped arcs and limited time.
Amazingly the editing with too many criss-cross cuts by A Sreekar Prasad is as bad as the random structure of the story, which is clearly an afterthought, as you can feel the scenes in silos but when they are combined together in a sequence they lose all of their value. Though the music and bgm by Sachin-Jigar, Tattoos by Tushar Shah, and even costumes by Maxima Basu (that balances out the traditional-urban look so beautifully) combined with Dimple Kapadia and Deepak Dobriyal's powress, and screen presence is the saving grace! Radhika Madan seems a little out of place cause there is a difference between stone-cold bitch and being too casual although Isha Talwar, Varun Mitra, Udit Arora, Angira Dhar, Ashish Verma, Vipin Sharma works quite well with what they are given, almost saving their characters from getting too typecast. And it's so refreshing to see two great comic actors like Deepak Dobriyal and Jimit Trivedi is such roles!
The first few episodes are good and powerful but it loses track after a point of time. With unnecessary focuses on two hallucinatory cocaine trips, messy murders either accidental or in a desert, or just collateral damage, a no-logic French man who knows drugs and grows them, an old egoistic politician (Nasseruddin Shah, irrespective of him with Dimple Kapadia together gives you goosebumps) butting in, a Janmashtami dahi handi competition to prove worthiness to the throne, a big disjointed twisty revelation, and the climatic end, brings down the entire series in quite an unconvincing fashion where your excitement for the next part only arises because now you have seen eight-episode and not because you are curious as to what will happen ahead. The familial tensions and wars are sidetracked by drug cum cop-Pablo Escobar chase or gang wars or political implications or backstories instead of being layered with them.
It's as if for the dramatic flair and the too-fast paced no-patience storytelling potentially good concepts and themes are compromised way too much exactly like done in Indian soaps. In its wake of trying too hard, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo gets stuck between what it aspires to be and what it is trying to overthrow, and the result is a middling entertaining series that makes up for a good one-time watch even if not the best one.
Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo is currently streaming on Disney+ Hotstar!
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