The new Disney+ Hotstar series Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo reveals its winning hand early on: a handicrafts business is a cover for a drug cartel run by an elderly woman. That this woman is played by Dimple Kapadia, a vision in silver jewellery and tattoos, is a bonus.
Having introduced us at the onset to the delightful possibility of cocaine smuggled in block-printed quilts and puppets, the series struggles to deliver the highs in subsequent episodes. Created and directed by Homi Adajania, Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo meanders between bloodbaths and buffoonery before settling for one of the oldest plot devices in town: the question of succession.
Savitri (Kapadia) produces a hot-selling cocaine variant named Flamingo. Savitri runs her operation with the help of her daughter Shanta (Radhika Madan), her daughters-in-law Kajal (Angira Dhar) and Bijlee (Isha Talwar), her factotum Cheema (Mahabir Bhullar) and her adopted son Dhiman (Udit Arora). A posse of cheerful-looking local women who look like volunteers at a Lijjat co-operative makes Savitri’s Rani Co-Operative company a roaring success.
Savitri’s flaky sons Harish (Ashish Verma) and Kapil (Varun Mitra) are away in the United States, unaware that their journeys have been fuelled by cocaine. A visit to the home coincides with twin attacks on Savitri’s base from her old adversary Munk (Deepak Dobriyal) and Mumbai anti-narcotics officer Prashun (Jimit Trivedi).
The series has been written by Saurav Dey, Nandini Gupta and Aman Mannan. The strongest theme over eight tonally uneven, overstretched episodes is Savitri’s ruthlessness, evident from her tough love for her unruly brood, her single-minded focus on moving her product, and the manner in which she transforms adversity into opportunity.
There are parts for Naseeruddin Shah (as Savitri’s benefactor), Vipin Sharma (as Munk’s henchman), and Sarika Singh (as Prashun’s wife). Monica Dogra plays Bijlee’s DJ friend, while Mark Bennington is the Frenchman who helps Savitri transform herself into Paola Escobarina.
Savitri is a figure of inspiration as well as fear – and Dimple Kapadia is well placed to portray her anti-heroine’s charisma. Backed by strong supporting turns from Radhika Madan as Savitri’s chemist-in-chief, Isha Talwar as the conflicted daughter-in-law, and Udit Arora as the troubled Dhiman, Kapadia has a fun time delivering cod dialogue with a bidi-coated rasp and fixing her tawny eyes on her latest hapless target.
The show’s big idea is that Savitri, having boldly ventured into a male-dominated profession, is nobody’s fool. It beggars belief, then, that Savitri fails to see the conspiracy against her rule that is brewing under her nose. Savitri’s reputation as the region’s biggest drug dealer is also suspect, what with evidence of her supposedly clandestine activity easily discovered.
The family dynamics, which increasingly assume centrestage, are as sketchy as they are predictable. After persuading us that Savitri is a magnetic boss who inspires die-hard loyalty, Saas, Bahu aur Flamingo succumbs to the melodramatic excesses promised by its cheesy title. A series of non-twists set up events for a second season, which is as unearned as the rancour against Savitri or the frequent guts-and-blood spillage.