The ingredients and making of the potage
Set in the fictional hill station of Mainjur, Tamil Nadu, the ingredients of Abhishek Chaubey’s soup mostly consists of the family members of an influential and amoral businessman Arvind Shetty (Sayaji Shinde) who is involved in all kinds of unscrupulous activities such as money-laundering and drug carteling. His daughter Apeksha (Anula Navelkar), on the other hand, has no interest in inheriting her father’s empire as she wants to pursue art in France while his brother Prabhakar Shetty (Manoj Bajpayee) in his quest of owning a luxury hotel named Hotel California with Arvind’s money, deceives him committing a fraud of thirty crores. Prabhu’s wife Swathi (Konkona Sen Sharma), an aspiring yet talentless nurse-turned home chef desires to have her own restaurant in her husband’s hotel. She is, however, involved in an extra marital affair with Prabhu’s squint-eyed masseuse aka his doppelganger Umesh Pillai (Manoj Bajpayee) who is ready to cross oceans in order to be with her forever.
Situations go haywire one night when Prabhu discovers Swathi’s affair and dies which marks the entry of other ingredients in this broth – a dull inspector Hassan(Nassar) on the brink of his retirement accompanied by his stoic poetry obsessed subordinate ASI Thupalli (Anbuthasan) who also eventually dies in the course of investigation. The private detective Kiran Nadar (Bagvathi Perumal), who was hired by Prabhu, also succumbs to death during the investigation. The black comedy gets darker when everyone’s darkest secrets start resurfacing such as Prabhu’s affair with his accountant Kirtima (Kani Kusruti), his bankruptcy due to his debts in the market, a loyal bodyguard of Arvind as well as former jungle rebel Lucas’s (Lal) illicit relationship with his sister aka Arvind’s late wife and Appu’s discovery during a heated family argument the identity of her real father. There are more ingredients along with more revelations making the soup thicker yet it tastes delicious in the end because Chaubey manages to keep the audience hooked with nail-biting intrigue.
Alike Shakespeare, Chaubey too follows the unity of place violating the other two Aristotelian unities. The entire narrative is based in Mainjur which looks bleak most of the time devoid any sunshine or sunlight, Chaubey invokes darkness to present us with a tale of a murky world where something is rotten, like Scotland of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Shakespearean plays always have different subplots running along with the main plot. Chaubey’s narrative consists of the same traits. At times, the soup becomes too thick to consume but we slurp it all. Inclusion of supernatural elements is a recurrent trope in Shakespearean plays such as Ghost of Hamlet’s father in Hamlet, the three witches and Banquo’s Ghost in Macbeth. In Killer Soup, Chaubey uses this trope while depicting the drenched ghost of ASI Thupalli wearing a yellow raincoat who aids inspector Hassan in finding the missing pieces of this case in a very poetic manner. However, both in Shakespearean plays and in Chaubey’s show, an ambiguity revolves around the existence of these ghosts i.e. whether they really exist or are they just figments of the character’s imagination who sees them. In all Shakespearean plays, the antagonists who devise plans to fulfill their quest are pretty evident, there’s no suspense or whodunnit element behind the crimes yet the audience and readers are always kept eager till the end to find how the antagonists are subjected to the consequences of their actions.
Similarly, it’s obvious in the show from the beginning that it’s Swathi and Umesh who are guilty of the consecutive deaths taking place in Mainjur yet they escape everytime not because of their ingenious plan but because their predestination aids their free will. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth’s vaulting ambition is fueled by Lady Macbeth’s desire for power. However, though Swathi’s unbridled desires to open her own restaurant and brainwashing Umesh into convincing him to take over her husband’s identity so that no one suspects them reminds us of Lady Macbeth, her character progression eventually exudes traits of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. While Umesh role plays the character of Prabhu for the sake of his love, Swathi does everything for the sake of her vaulting ambition. Chaubey in this way subverts the gender hierarchy by making a woman the main character.
Chaubey’s finesse lies in the way he crafts all the sequences of death, where actually no one is killed but are forced into circumstances where they can’t escape death. The resolution he offers to the plot turns it into a tragedy where Swathi is the tragic hero whose hamartia lies in her pursuit of financial independence, we sympathize with her since she is a victim of domestic violence evident in some instances of the film.
Produced by Macguffin Pictures, ironically the killer soup itself acts as the mcguffin. In the end, even though Swati discovers her secret ingredient for the soup, she fails to achieve her goal as all hell breaks loose. Yet it’s only love that saves both Umesh and Swathi in the end. The chemistry between two morally questionable characters who have their own set of reasons behind their every action played by Manoj Bajpayee and Konkona Sen Sharma is saucy and emotionally captivating leaving us awestruck.
In all total of eight episodes Chaubey cooks a potage laden with many literary references, where fireflies act as the only source of guiding light (magic realism), where a criminal conceals her identity using the name of Manisha Koirala, a khansama (Vaishali Bisht) emanates the traits of witches from Macbeth and quotes from poets like Proust, Frost, Dickinson to help a police officer solve a twisted case.
Abhishek Chaubey’s fascination with Shakespeare is nothing new, he has previously collaborated with Vishal Bhardwaj on the Indian adaptation of Othello which was a huge success. This time around, he reinvents, refines and relocates the characteristics of a Shakespearean plot, blending black comedy with tragedy, thus making it a lip- smacking broth whose taste will linger in our hearts and mind for a long time.