Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo overdoses on sex, violence and drugs without an inkling of plot or purpose, feels Sukanya Verma.
When Homi Adajania conceived Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo in 2015, it was a three-page story, unsure if its 'dystopian mad space’ would fit into a feature film format.
Enter OTT’s long form advantage and Adajania’s indulgent crime drama widened its scope into an eight-episode Web series that’s more scattered than sprawling despite its ambitions.
A man’s head sliced into half, racy PDA between lesbian lovers and a young man’s violent reaction to deadly hallucinogens in the first few minutes make the show’s aspirations loud and clear as it overdoses on sex, violence and drugs without an inkling of plot or purpose.
Somewhere in a fictional region of Rajasthan and Gujarat border, when not checking the Pan-India reach of their actions for the sake of scale, Adajania and his trio of writers Saurav Dey, Nandini Gupta and Aman Mannan steadily focus on a matriarchal leader’s local roots and industry.
Senior citizen Savitri (Dimple Kapadia) is a charismatic, influential figure running a cooperative that employs and empowers hordes of women sharing a traumatic past like hers.
Among these assiduous ladies, there’s the daughters-in-law duo of Bijli, the level-headed one (Isha Talwar) and quick-tempered Kajal (Angira Dhar) as well as her own darling daughter Shanta (Radhika Madan). Except the reality of their handicraft and herbal medicine business is harvesting a multi-million dollar cocaine industry in the secret alleys of their enormous haveli.
Sporting excessive tattoos, chunky tribal jewels, hippy ethnic chic and smartwatches, they’re a photogenic mix of exotic and sassy.
If only their purported feminism wasn’t solely build around their carnal passions, they’d seem a little more stimulating too.
Savitri’s phirang lover, Bijli’s supressed sexuality, Kajal’s bawdy fetish, Shanta’s incestuous overtures -- not sisterhood, not soul, these women are only defined by their desires.
Adajania is attracted to unhinged characters.
He likes to lace his storytelling in human idiosyncrasies.
But his trademark filmmaking backfires against the garbled tone of his OTT debut. Like that strange Mumbai cop (Jimit Trivedi) hot on Savitri’s trail and his curious interactions with his artist wife insisting on tagging along to remote locations.
Or Savitri’s oddball sons.
Oblivious to the dark activities of the women in their family, timid Kapil (Varun Mitra) and junkie Harish (Ashish Verma) arrive from New York with dirty secrets of their own. Until they reach home though, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo meanders into a short-lived stoner road trip where the childish clashes between the brothers struggle to make sense of its quirky humour.
Awkward display of wit (Pablo Chocobar, anyone?) and instances of black comedy, like a man’s torture by dipping his face into scalding hot cheese fondue followed by brutal flashbacks documenting graphic scenes of sexual assault, the grimness within Adajania’s faux milieu of faked accents and morality is more sensationalist than dystopian in its purpose.
Tossing in incest and sex trafficking to the mix, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo’s shoddy stereotypes and bedroom shenanigans never let it realise its wild, wayward possibilities.
There are attempts to document its crooked universe and its shady workings in detail like Farzi but none of the spunk. Guns and ghagras make for a fine punchline but the imagery feels bland in absence of emotions.
When Savitri, flanked by the loyal watchdog Cheema, announces her decision to pick a successor between the beti, betas, bahus and son-like right hand man, Dhiman (Udit Arora) after Janmashtami, there’s no conflict for the longest time.
Even the clear villains of the piece -- a Voldemort-like figure spewing sinister spiritualism called Monk (Deepak Dobriyal), a political clout craving kingpin (Naseeruddin Shah makes a brief but welcome appearance) -- find little to do in the sex-heavy soap opera, full of characters regularly contradicting themselves or turning into an entirely different person.
Somewhere in Linesh Desai’s gorgeously framed eight 50-minutes episodes, there’s a plot in search of edgier writing and shrewder will whose glimpse one can catch in Dimple Kapadia’s fiery eyes and steely charm. Her sheer guts blaze through the small screen even when the series isn’t half as worthy.
Radhika Madan’s action heroine fluency hits peak form in scenes of ambush and aggression. It’s far more fun than watching her play yet another version of the privileged rebellious brat.
Angira Dhar’s flair for sly, snappish parts holds her in good stead whereas Isha Talwar emerges as the most composed and complex of a showy lot.
Between a reliable Ashish Verma, grimacing Udit Arora and somewhat miscast Varun Mitra, it is Deepak Dobriyal’s coldblooded menace that leaves the strongest impact. After Bholaa, the actor plays to the gallery yet again and miraculously disappears under the skin of a vile antagonist.
The Dimple-Dobriyal face-off is the kind of kinetics Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo would benefit from in a series otherwise preoccupied with random jolts, sex faces and gory twists.
Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo streams on Disney+Hotstar.