In Black Widows, three women trapped in abusive marriages decide that there is something better than divorce – murder.

Two of the husbands wholly deserve what they get. The jury is out on the third, which is probably why he escapes the impact of the bomb placed in a boat as he takes a ride with the other two men.

This revenant is only one of the irritants for the merry widows, who soon realise that they have raided their wine cellars too early. A pair of police investigators arrives on the scene. The blast survivor’s business partner is looking for a bag filled with crores. A ruthless pharma company head (is there any other kind?) is trying to retrieve an incriminating recording that reveals her role in pushing out a dodgy vaccine. The sisterhood between the widows starts to fray.

The Zee5 series is a remake of the popular Finnish show Mustat Lesket, which in turn inspired the Swedish remake Black Widows. Adapted by Radhika Anand and directed by Birsa Dasgupta, the Indian Black Widows comprises 10 episodes of 30-odd minutes each, with the threat of a second season.

The colour in the title refers to the dark humour that runs through a crime-infused tale of attempted emancipation. The pretzel-shaped plot proceeds as a comedy of errors, doling out twists, wackiness and implausibility in equal measure. The conceit is carried along by smart casting decisions and enjoyable performances.

Veera (Mona Singh), Jayati (Swastika Mukherjee) and Kavita (Shamita Shetty) are so desperate to free themselves from their spouses that they even contemplate suicide. It’s the airhead Kavita who has the bright idea that the husbands need to die instead.

Only two bodies are retrieved, but this doesn’t seem to bother the police inspectors Pankaj (Parambrata Chattopadhyay) and Rinku (Shruti Vyas). Their initially shambolic investigation allows Veera’s husband Jatin (Sharad Kelkar), the only blast survivor, to go largely undiscovered as he tries to find out who wanted him dead. Among Jatin’s suspects is his partner Rameez (Shaheb Chattopadhyay), who is squeezing Veera for the bagful of money, and the pharma company owner Inaaya (Raima Sen), who will stop at nothing to market her dubious vaccine.

This attack on the patriarchy is never meant to be taken too seriously. The women have “murderers” tattooed on their foreheads, but despite overtly suspicious and decidedly unwidowlike behaviour, they manage to stay under the radar. Every now and then, a new headache emerges: Jatin’s reappearance, the sudden arrival of Jayati’s stepson, Pankaj’s evolving sleuthing skills.

The biggest threats come from within the trinity. Jayati, who has the worst of the three spouses (played by Mohan Kapoor), begins to have differences with Veera, especially when Veera develops feelings for Jatin all over again.

Kavita’s attempts to move on only complicates matters for her friends. Kavita acquires new partners even as she imagines that her husband Lalit (Vipul Roy) is still lurking about. In her obsession with trying to crawl out from under the large shadows of her friends, Kavita turns out to be one of the show’s most hilarious characters.

The widows might make for inept masterminds, but the actors playing them ensure that they can neither be ignored nor underestimated. Mona Singh and Swastika Chatterjee balance pathos with comedy and maintain remarkable focus through a dizzying turn of events.

Shamita Shetty is in fine form as a creature straight out of a screwball comedy. I have tried adulting and it simply didn’t work, Kavita declares in one of her more reflective moments.

Shruti Vyas and Sharad Kelkar are among the other actors who navigate the silliness masquerading as wickedness. Parambrata Chattopadhyay appears to be having a hard time keeping a straight face at times, but he turns on the charm as he bumbles along. He can’t be blamed for his inefficiency – there are far too many dots to be joined, and a second season is surely round the corner.

Black Widows (2020).