There are two quite remarkable things you witness in ‘Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt Ltd’, the new TVF show, streaming on Zee 5. One is an elderly woman (Yamini Das) telling her entitled son (Anup Soni) how much she regrets not getting remarried after the death of her husband because she was worried for her little boy. What if the new man was not a good father? She chose the alternative — a lifetime of struggle to raise that very boy who is today behaving badly.
And the other is the complete turning on its head the myth of the cruel stepmother: behold the Other Woman (Anjana Sukhani), who neither tries too hard to be likeable, nor is she oblivious to her husband’s two children from his previous marriage, and is aware that they need to be nurtured too, along with her own child. Whoa.
These are big enough statements, rarely if ever spoken about so plainly in a series which is set in a middle-class ‘mohalla’ in Old Delhi, which make you want to applaud the makers. It makes up for the fact, almost, that the main connective tissue which gives the series its title, between ‘saas’ and ‘bahu’ and ‘achaar’, becomes both dull and contrived in places.
When Suman (Amruta Subhash) says that young women like her are never taught any tools for an eventuality they will have to fend for themselves, that their whole life before marriage is a training to keep her man happy, who will then take care of all her needs, she speaks for a generation of women like her. She turns to the only skill she has — ‘achaar-making’– in the hope of making some money, only to realise nothing is ever as simple as it looks, even with the ostensible help of the canny but good-hearted Shukla ji (Anandeshwar Dwivedi).
What’s nice about Suman is that at no point does she feel sorry for herself. After every fall, she gathers herself up, and sets out again. Subhash makes us feel for Suman, a woman who is fortunate to have a supportive ‘saas’ (take that, Ektaa Kapoor), and who tries to help her at every step, even though many of those steps are not convincing enough. And the series’ fumbling device to corral the local ‘kaamwaalis’ in their ‘achaar’ project lends itself the most amount of dullness. Also, did no one stop to think how convenient it is that everyone, repeat everyone, who tastes Suman-ke-haath-ka-Wonder Achaar falls instantly under its spell? Not one dissenting vote?
Still, the flavour persists; it’s difficult for the wonderful Subhash to give a bad performance, even though the writing is sharper and wiser when it comes to the other woman. Both Soni and Sukhani, with his flaws and her vulnerabilities, are excellent, and impart a welcome degree of complexity to this series.