A dark comedy adorned with murder and mayhem, served with a side order of “paya” soup and a dream platter of Manoj Bajpayee and Konkona Sensharma? When I learned about Abhishek Chaubey’s upcoming web series, “Killer Soup,” for 2024, I thought, “Sign me up already.” It pains me to say it, but this mixture, which held out so much promise in terms of flavour and freshness, only partially materialized for me.
A twisty story with a cast of dubious characters and dubious deeds would be ideal in this picturesque setting of Mainjur, a small town near Madurai. Husband and wife team Prabhakar aka Prabhu Shetty (Manoj Bajpayee) and Swathi (Konkona Sensharma) are trapped in what seems like an endless fight; she is dreaming of opening her restaurant, while he is trying to figure out how to escape a multi-crore “ghapla.” With his art-loving daughter Apeksha, aka Apu (Anula Navelkar), tightly gripped by her father Arvind Shetty (Saiyaji Shinde), Prabhu’s older brother, is no help at all. He is streetwise and foul-mouthed, and he won’t let her follow her passion. Knowing where the skeletons are buried, Arvind’s longtime factotum, the gravelly-voiced Lucas (Lal), keeps past secrets.
Watch Here: Killer Soup on Netflix
There seems to be a lot of potential for a fly in the soup. or multiple. A happy private investigator pulls out a camera and takes embarrassing pictures. There’s a hint of blackmail. Manoj Bajpayee plays Prabhu’s double, Umesh Pillai, a squint-eyed masseuse who appears at the wrong place and time. The bodies begin to pile up. When beady-eyed senior Inspector Hassan (Nasser), burly constable Asha (Shilpa Mudbi), and enthusiastic rookie Thupalli (Anbuthasan) show up, they stir things up. Who is that enigmatic burkha-wearing woman? The camera is missing; where is it? Whose remains are in that grave where the fireflies are swarming?
Although it may sound like a lot, these plot points—which are ostensibly based on a real-life case—dissipate for eight 45–50-minute episodes in writing that are primarily straightforward and sporadically complex. Quirk works best when it is ingrained in the characters and enhances the narrative; however, in this instance, it seems forced. As I watched this, I couldn’t help but think of the endearingly absurd details in Chaubey’s “Ishqiya” and “Dedh Ishqiya”—were there too many cooks in this place?
A black “comedy” is supposed to be funny and make you laugh despite yourself, but I was waiting for the jokes to start here. I was also waiting for shockers, which are another crucial element of black comedy, but everything moves along quite nicely. Is there an urgency? or the stress? Why is the “khansama” from Hyderabad so inflated? Actually, why is there such a fixation on shoddy “paya” soup? In reality, we never learn. Most importantly, why do the extraordinarily gifted Bajpayee and Sensharma not click? They had every right to blow up the screen.
Certain details do matter, particularly when fresh faces appear. It’s a great touch that so many of the characters speak Tamil as they would naturally. When Kirtima (Kani Kusruti, very good) arrived to demand her pound of flesh, which weakened when confronted by her low-backed blouses, I also sat up. For example, there is a startling note that lingers too long when the strong-willed Apu, portrayed by a convincing Navlekar, lashes out at her abusive father who is unable to speak without hurting his mothers and sisters. Shinde and Bajpayee collaborated more successfully in the 1999 police drama “School.”
Just by being there, the most excellent Nasser kept pulling me back into the thick of things. It’s a joy to watch his vintage police officer who never stops, knows when to give a slap, and can precisely meet a plank while measuring his length on the ground. He is the highlight of this boring broth because he is sharp and droll just as needed.
The cast of Killer Soup
Jasir, Rajeev Ravindranathan, Anbuthasan, Vaishali Bisht, Shilpa Mudbi, Konkona Sensharma, Nasser, Sayaji Shinde, Kani Kusruti, Lal, Anula Navlekar, Manoj Bajpayee, and lal
Director of Killer Soup: Abhishek Chaubey