Swathi Shetty’s paya soup is ghastly enough to repel its consumers. But she turns out to be somewhat better at crime when she manages to replace her husband Prabhakar with her lover Umesh.

What does it say about Swathi (Konkona Sensharma) that Prabhakar and Umesh (both played by Manoj Bajpayee) are dead ringers except for a bum eye? Abhishek Chaubey’s Killer Soup takes a similarly cock-eyed view of a game of deception with diminishing returns.

The eight-episode Netflix series has the heightened quality, hectic air and unruly energy associated with absurdist comedy. The tone careens between the sublime and the ridiculous. In promising us a murder mystery but actually delivering a superb character study, the series is an equally slippery beast.

Written by Chaubey along with Unaiza Merchant, Anant Tripathi and Harshad Nalawade, Killer Soup is set in the fictitious Kodaikanal-like hilly town Mainjur in Tamil Nadu. It’s a place large enough to accommodate the resemblance between Prabhakar and Umesh, allow important clues to lie about in plain view and let secrets fester for generations.

Like Simi from Andhadhun, Swathi has a distaste for as well as a knack for the thug life. Anuj Rakesh Dhawan’s frames get tighter and lensing wonkier as a seemingly perfect crime unravels in spectacular fashion. The obstacles include Prabhakar’s brother Arvind (Sayaji Shinde), who never met a human he didn’t bully, the bumbling police inspector Hassan (Nasser), Prabhakar’s suspicious colleague Kirtima (Kani Kusruti) and Arvind’s enigmatic relative Lucas (Lal).

Konkona Sensharma and Manoj Bajpayee in Killer Soup (2024). Courtesy Maguffin Pictures/Netflix.

The grotesquerie is as seductive as it is shambolic. Starters, main course and dessert are served in one ago, leading to a spread of pleasurable flavours as well as avoidable gluttony.

The Tamil Nadu setting gives meaty roles to Anbuthasan and Shilpa Mudbi as Hassan’s subordinates. They fare better than the other secondary actors, who ham like mandatory vegetarianism is looming on the horizon.

There are copious references to the song Tu Hi Re from the Hindi version of Mani Ratnam’s Tamil-language Bombay. Ratnam’s collaborator Siva Ananth has written the show’s Tamil dialogue. There are several other Easter eggs to consider, even as Hassan’s investigation into Prabhakar’s disappearance threatens to veer off course.

There is no shortage of incident, as well as cranked-up breathlessness. A bunch of reluctant and enthusiastic monsters slosh about in a cauldron of amour fou, staggering ambition, petty jealousy, moral turpitude, unhealed wounds and thwarted dreams.

The surrealist flourishes result in many inspired scenes, including a terrific climax that re-centres the narrative on its twinned themes of love and payback. There are enough sedate moments to absorb the excellent character sketches, wicked humour, and top-notch players.

Manoj Bajpayee’s expertly judged Umesh straddles the pathetic and the bathetic. Bajpayee portrays Umesh’s increasingly untenable position with remarkable subtlety and the self-deprecating wit.

There’s glorious barnstorming by Sayaji Shinde, as a Shetty with the vocabulary of a gangster from Mirzapur, and Nasser, in one of his funniest roles. Kani Kusruti, and Shilpa Mudbi and Anula Navlekar (as Arvind’s daughter) have solid moments too.

Is it possible for a single actor to dominate an amply populated show – without trying to? Konkona Sensharma’s tour de force performance is a show-stopper. Swathi is evil ringmaster and tragic clown , her despair to achieve her goals pushing her over the edge. It’s easy to guffaw at Swathi, just as it’s possible to feel her anguish. If Swathi’s deadly mediocrity sets Killer Soup in motion, Sensharma’s sensational performance anchors it.

Killer Soup (2024).