Savitri aka Rani Baa (Dimple Kapadia) produces and sells a hot cake drug called Flamingo, which is a variant of cocaine. She runs this drug cartel under the guise of a handicraft and merchandise business called Rani Cooperative, with the help of her daughters-in-law, Kaajal (Angira Dhar) and Bijlee (Isha Talwar), daughter Shanta (Radhika Madan), adopted son Dhiman (Udit Arora) and her handyman Cheema (Mahabir Bhullar).
Savitri’s good-for-nothing sons, Kapil (Varun Mitra) and Harish (Ashish Verma), are away in the States, and have no idea about this dodgy but nevertheless roaringly successful business that the women in the house are running. Their visit to the fictitious Rann Pradesh (their hometown) coincides with a twin-attack on the haveli, from Prashun (Jimit Trivedi), na anti-narcotics officer from Mumbai, and Munk (Deepak Dobriyal), Savitri’s old nemesis.
A riveting montage of feisty, fearless women
This is the world of Homi Adajania’s Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo, which is currently streaming on Hotstar. Created and directed by Adajania, the eight-episode show is a borderland family crime drama that meanders between Gangs of Wasseypur, and your archetypal Saas Bahu soap opera, alas settling for what is perhaps one of the most cliched plot coupons in storytelling — succession.
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There’s a lot that could have gone wrong in this crime thriller/family drama, but doesn’t for the most part. For instance, for a filmmaker who is so innately metropolitan, the narrative is deeply rooted, in the rural borderlands of India — so it wouldn’t be wrong to expect an exotification of the desert, and the women who inhabit it, but that doesn’t happen. One can credit this to the adventurer that resides inside Adajania, thanks to which he utilizes the setting not as a far-flung location waiting to be romanticized, but rather as the foundation that carries the world that he has created.
Written by Saurav Dey, Nandini Gupta, and Aman Mannan, the show is a riveting montage of what feisty, ruthless, and fearless women can do to survive and outgrow their circumstances. It takes a morally gray stand on how sometimes our situations define who we become, rather than the other way around, and even if who we become is socially unacceptable, and ethically problematic, at the end of the day, the fight is to survive.
Dimple Kapadia: The star of the show
Homi and his team do a fine job at depicting this conflicted ethos, but fail in giving us the subversive, feminist show that they think they are giving us. On the surface, the idea of women successfully operating a menacing, male-dominated business, while the husbands (the scatterbrained sons of Savitri) are tucked away safely into oblivion seems disruptive, but the fact that the matriarch Rani Baa runs around being a messiah to hapless women, only to build her empire, poses the question if protecting her sons, while pushing her daughters-in-law into the face of danger, is more patriarchal, than revolutionary?
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However, if making an empowering, and reformative show about female power wasn’t on the books, then Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo, is a fair enough entertaining watch, laced with Adajania’s intrinsic quirky wittiness that provides for a good laugh, whenever the men in the family are mollycoddled for their incompetence as opposed to the women whose minds are quick and sharp as the knives they wield when they slay their adversaries.
It goes without saying that Kapadia is the star of the show, with her rage-filled gaze, and a presence that instantly commands respect, fear and admiration all at once; her Savitri aka Rani Baa is a product of her past. Her present, a consequence of the difficult decisions she took in order to survive after she is abused, raped, and left to die in the blistering desert of Western India. For the better part (literally), the show focuses on how she rises from a powerless victim of molestation and exploitation to the empress of Asia’s biggest drug cartel. Flashbacks to her past are perhaps the highlight of the show, so much so that you wish you could see more of it (maybe in season 2?).
It is by now well-established that Kapadia can carry even the most colourless of stories with a beguiling spark that doesn’t allow you to shift your gaze, so it’s natural that when given such a meaty role to essay, she is prone to doing wonders. Isha Talwar is another actor who captivates the screen with her presence, in the role of Bijlee, a married woman, in a lesbain relationship with Naina, a DJ from Mumbai. Her queerness is fortunately not paraded around like a USP to market the show, but is also not layered enough to actually invoke any discussion about what it means to be a lesbian rural woman. That aside, Talwar is alluringly deadly while also showing shades of vulnerability in her scenes with Monica Dogra (Naina).
Leaves no sliver of legacy behind
The same cannot be said about Dhar and Madan, who are quite monochromatic in their portrayals of Kaajal and Shanta, respectively. Although, Madan’s scenes with Arora (Dhiman), her so-called brother, and love interest have electrifying chemistry, which has more to do with Arora’s enticing act as the adopted son, in love with the woman the world sees as his sister. He brings alive the pain, the dilemma, and the conflict with impeccable poignancy, allowing you to empathize.
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Dobriyal, an otherwise fascinating actor, is given nothing to play with, leaving him with reciting laughable poetry that is supposed to sound diabolical in an oddly wispy voice. Naseeruddin Shah makes a cameo that is beyond forgettable, while Jimit Trivedi is again, a character abandoned without any definitive arc. These are all brilliant actors, not utilized to even the tip of their capacity, let alone to their best potential.
Alas, Saas Bahu Aur Flamingo is an interesting one-time-watch, but in terms of impact — let’s just say that the influence is short-lived. It is one of those shows that isn’t too bad, but is neither good enough, so it comes and goes, without leaving even a sliver of legacy behind. Adajania, a fine filmmaker with refreshing sensibilities, works on a script that requires more than what he can provide as a storyteller unfortunately.