Amruta Subhash's journey towards recognising her worth in a judiciously earned moment of victory is reason enough not to miss Saas Bahu Achaar PVT LTD, applauds Sukanya Verma.
Early morning scenes of Delhi's Daryaganj neighbourhood unfold with one woman packing off labelled tiffin boxes for her school-bound children and another on a cycle hunting for the perfect Ramkela mangoes in a market full of Baramasi.
Saas Bahu Achaar PVT LTD may have the everyday aesthetics of Gullak and the title of a soap inspired drama, but the TVF (The Viral Fever) production by Apoorv Singh Karki and Arunabh Kumar is as aspirational as most of its other creations.
Only this time, the backdrop is not an academic world or specialised exam, but an uneducated, divorced, woman's journey to self-empowerment.
Suman's (Amruta Subhash) fledgling pickle business struggles to make headway even as she nudges her soft-spoken albeit ineffective neighbour Shuklaji (Anandeshwar Dwivedi) to help her cause.
Occupying a dingy matchbox room, a complete contrast from the sprawling, independent Delhi 6 abode she called home while married to Dilip (Anoop Soni), Suman's low self-esteem and disappointment are imprinted on her self-effacing persona.
Unable to take custody of her kids owing to her wobbly economic status, Suman hopes her chatpata achaar-making skills can overcome her lack of education and attempts small-scale entrepreneurship to reunite with her son Rishu and daughter Juhi.
Though easier said than done, Saas Bahu Achaar PVT LTD makes the path to success far smoother than it probably is.
Whatever hurdles and hiccups Suman faces are neatly resolved through optimistic marketing skills in the manner of a fairy tale.
Despite its strong foodie theme, there's no special effort to romanticise the process of pickle-making.
If anything, Wonder Pickle's questionable hygiene, anyone and everyone taking taster samples directly from a pack or bottle with their bare fingers made me queasy.
In a refreshing change though, behind a woman's success is another woman, and the unlikeliest one of them given the history of Indian television -- Suman's mother-in-law (Yamini Das).
Das was among my pick of scene-stealers of 2018 for her delightful delivery in Sui Dhaaga.
Here too, she seasons the proceedings with her mix of zesty wit and reliable warmth.
A scene where she tries the oldest trick in bargaining -- walking away smugly in the hope to be called back by the desperate seller -- is one of her many moments of mirth.
Told with mild humour and emotional realism, the six-part series sticks predominantly because of its terrific cast that's as believable as the problems of the world it inhabits.
If one half of Saas Bahu Achaar PVT LTD is focused on getting Suman back on her feet, the other draws our attention to the domestic troubles in her former husband's home.
Rishu is slipping in bad company. Juhi steals fee money.
Even though both share an aloof equation with their father, who left their mom to marry Manisha (Anjana Sukhani), the latter succeeds in warming up to her stepchildren by sheer patience and understanding.
We never know if it's her guilt or magnanimity that makes her such a rare case of sensitive stepmoms on screen. But there are occasions when Manisha's decency in face of outright injustice renders her unrealistic. Despite the uneven writing, Anjana Sukhani plays her with grace.
One cannot say the same about her husband.
Dilip is a complex creature.
He may look withdrawn and docile until he erupts in monstrous rage demonstrating a tendency for physical violence and callous impulses.
While the unexpected professional competition between him and his ex-wife, in the field of pickle sales, has hints of Amitabh Bachchan and Nutan's karmic rivalry in Saudagar, it's too on the nose to truly work.
Anoop Soni is a picture of credibility even if Dilip is not.
Amidst Saas Bahu Achaar PVT LTD's idealist philosophy and flawed humanity, easily granted triumphs and redemptions, Amruta Subhash's solemn gaze is impossible to look away from.
She is staggeringly compelling, whether standing vanquished in all her failed and frail glory or righteous in her dealings or resentful in her relationships.
Her journey towards recognising her worth in a judiciously earned moment of victory is reason enough not to miss this new show on ZEE5.
Saas Bahu Achaar PVT LTD streams on ZEE5.