Netflix’s Killer Soup has the perfect ingredients of crime, suspense, panic, eccentricity, and drama broiled into a piping hot dark-comedy thriller. The first scene opens in Tamil Nadu’s refreshing town of Minjur, dotted with lush green hills and a gorgeous river. Through the convoluted alleys of the town, we reach the handsome Shetty Villa sitting atop Dickinson Lane. The straight-from-story book house introduces us to the Shettys played by The Family Man’s Manoj Bajpayee and Lust Stories 2’s Konkona Sen Sharma.
While the walls are loaded with numerous happy couple pictures, it couldn’t be more misleading. This loveless marriage brings together the chauvinistic Prabhakar Shetty and his dissatisfied wife Swathi, who is having an illicit affair with the former’s masseuse Umesh Pillai (also being played by Bajpayee) — who is a cross-eyed lookalike of her husband.
Swathi is fixated on just one thing — she wants to open her restaurant and dazzle everyone with her paaya (trotter soup). Well, the bad news is she is a terrible cook who, for some reason, hasn’t yet figured out that her culinary skills are disastrous.
During the first episode itself, Prabhakar catches Swathi and Umesh, loses his temper and tries to kill her— although he has also been cheating on her throughout their marriage. When the forbidden lovers hit him in self-defence, Prabhakar falls unconscious.
Coincidently, on the same night, the deadly accident of a private detective, whose phone had several missed calls from Prabhakar earlier, leads to the involvement of the police, further complicating the situation for the two. This is when Swathi hatches a vicious plan of posing Umesh as Prabhakar in front of the world.
For the rest of the seven episodes, we see how the couple desperately tries to hide the truth while a new threat pops up every ten minutes of the show.
Even though the first half has several thriller elements crammed together, it is during the second half that the plot actually thickens and takes a rather serious tone (sorry, can’t reveal much without giving away any spoilers; there are just too many twists in the plotline and too many people falling like Newton’s apple).
Killer Soup review: A hot-pot of sub-plots
While the main storyline is of Umesh and Swathi trying to fool the world, many sub-plots are served in the background. Prabhakar’s rowdy elder brother (Sayaji Shinde) is running an illegal business under the shield of his sprawling tea estate. His rebellious daughter (Anula Navlekar) wants to study art in France, much against her father’s will. A newly recruited policeman, ASI Thuppali (Anbu Thasan) — who is an overenthusiastic chap preparing for the civil services examination — suspects something fishy and tries to investigate the case on his own, while his senior (Nassar) – who is just a few weeks shy of retirement just doesn’t seem to care. One of Prabhakar’s employees (Kani Kusruti) might have more information than she is letting out. There is also a loud and shabby cooking teacher (Vaishali Bisht) with a somewhat witchy persona who isn’t ready to share her secret soup recipe with Swathi. Phew!
Out of these many sub-plots, I found that of Nassar’s inspector Hassan most fascinating. How a particular incident changes the very fibre of his being is something to look out for.
Killer Soup review: Konkona’s Character Unfolds in layers
Konkona Sen Sharma has done an impressive job of portraying Swathi, who brings a whole array of emotions to the platter. She has tightly worn the skin of a suppressed woman dependent on her pig of a husband.
Nearly two decades of Prabhakar’s emotional unavailability have instilled a deep feeling of loneliness within her. She has shifted her entire focus towards her dream restaurant — as if it will magically improve her life.
Given that Swathi was a former nurse who traded her previous life for this one, the dissatisfaction, existential crisis, and ounces of regret are carefully picked out by Konkona.
However, as Swathi moves to the driving seat of her life after decades of being trodden, a more confident version makes an appearance. An interesting and gradual unfolding of her emotional layers happens. Her new avatar can now lie through her teeth, mute her sensitivity at will, and stop at nothing from living her dream. She brings out a somewhat twisted version of herself, who has more complexities in her character than a trigonometric equation.
Killer Soup review: Manoj Bajpayee stuns in dual roles
When Prabhakar, Manoj wears rowdiness, fragile male ego, perpetual cussing, and a simple disinterest in any other human than himself. He is heavily clad in boldly patterned clothes and gold jewellery — probably overcompensating for being a clay model of a terrible man who breathes in patriarchy. However, as soon as his simpleton lookalike Umesh comes to the screen, a certain air of timidness and quirkiness takes over. The body language, tone, expressions — everything takes a 360-degree turn. He has played both characters with such perfection that one might forget for a micro-second that the two men arguing on screen are the same person. Bajpayee has done a stellar job of convincingly portraying two polar opposite characters and has aced North Indian, American, and Tamilian accents.
Killer Soup review: A seasoning of humour blends with a thrilling undertone
While the main tone of the show is that of suspense, Killer Soup also brings in plenty of comedic respites. Whether it is a post-mortem doctor casually enjoying his scrumptious meal over a smelly dead body or Umesh blurting out hilarious comebacks every once in a while, the show guarantees a chuckle or two.
Killer Soup review: Overloaded with poetic references
The web series had me Googling various pieces of poetry featured throughout my binge-watching session. A book called “Poems for the Stoic Heart” (which I could not find on Amazon despite my countless efforts) belonging to Inspector Thupalli is the main character. It seems to be a collection of poems, which are, in a way, the exact narration of the events of the story. For instance, when Thuppali decides to dig deeper into the case, Rober Frost’s “Miles to Go Before I Sleep” beautifully plays in the background. One might even say that the poems were like clues of a smartly-designed treasure hunt. While this seems to be an interesting storytelling style, if you are not a poet by heart, the frequent poetic clues might feel like a bit of a hassle, leaving you frustrated or even clueless.
Killer Soup review: A visually stunning feast
It’s impossible to review the Killer Soup without acknowledging that the show has done a brilliant job in cinematography and prop placements. The show has so many visual (and even audio) metaphors that you might miss one or two if you aren’t paying close attention. Everything you watch on the screen has been carefully planted and has a significance that will be revealed later.
The show has been beautifully shot. In one scene, Prabhakar and Swathi are lying down like a royal couple, with their clothes alternately matching the drapes and carpets in the background — giving away the feel of a carefully calculated painting. Even the scene with the two cuddling and a mop washing out blood casually resting on the side seemed impressive.
The series has also made sure to have abundant food appearances throughout the eight episodes (it’s killing “soup” after all, no?), even when Swathi isn’t trying hands at her infamous paaya. For instance, a lot of meetings with the police are set in the canteen, with tea cups or ketchup bottles resting on the table. There is a scene where Swathi is having emotional turmoil and is maniacally cleaning and cooking. A boiling tea saucer representing her brimming emotions makes a special appearance.
Heena Vara has done a stellar job with her tempting food styling. I have a bunch of other favourites from the cinematographic segment of the show, but unfortunately, each one comes with a spoiler!
Killer Soup review: Musical notes of storytelling
Maybe it’s just me, but I found what Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar have done with the background score really interesting. Whenever Swati drifts away in her delusional world or feels closer to living her dream, a rather joyous musical tone from a kids’ fairy tale gives away how cathartic Swathi’s dream is for her. As reality interrupts, the background score makes the jolty transition. The film also borrows Nina Simone’s 1962 song “Where you gonna run to?” for one of its scenes where a few characters are trying to run away from the scary mess that they’ve created.
Killer Soup review: Verdict
Killer Soup is an intriguing dark-comedy thriller that will keep you guessing what possible new twist could come up next. Konkona and Manoj Bajpayee have done a fabulous job and have perfectly brought to the screen even the smallest emotional nuances of their characters. The supporting cast, too, has done full justice to their roles. Director Abhishek Chaubey has ensured that none of the characters have a flat emotional graph and have a complex spectrum of emotions waiting in store. Lastly, with Killer Soup, you’ll be forced to gasp, laugh, admire, and scratch your head.
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