Killer Soup Review: Konkona Sen Sharma, Manoj Bajpayee Strike A Wonderful Duet In Deadly Broth

A just-deceased man’s phone rings. The caller is another dead man. That aptly signals the end of the opening episode of Killer Soup, a deliciously off-the-wall crime series created and directed by Abhishek Chaubey.  The owners of the phones are dead but the warped connection lingers on and impacts the course of the insanely twisted eight-episode Netflix series. The freakish is par for the course here. As more people die, each life lost casts a shadow, literally and figuratively, on those that survive.

A Latin sign outside a mortuary in the fictional Tamil Nadu hill town that Killer Soup is set in reads “Mortui vivos docent” (“the dead teach the living”). The living learn little in this neck of the woods. They frantically try – and fail – to shrug off the burden of the departed.

Killer Soup, a deftly crafted crime and investigation caper marked by whip-smart writing and unerring acting, is quirky, sly and hugely entertaining. One of its two principal characters is Swathi Shetty (Konkona Sen Sharma), an inept cook who hopes to start a restaurant of her own.

Her self-absorbed husband, Prabhakar ‘Prabhu’ Shetty (Manoj Bajpayee), promises to help her but is more interested in pulling himself out of a hole after having botched up several business projects. Their marriage is a recipe for disaster.

Prabhu’s foulmouthed elder brother, Arvind Shetty (Sayaji Shinde), wavers between fraternal affection and corrosive candour. He loses no opportunity to tick Prabhu off for his profligacies. Prabhu shamelessly leeches off his big brother. The latter, too, has skeletons aplenty in the closet.

Swathi, disgruntled as much with what she lacks as with what she possesses, has an affair with a masseur, Umesh Pillai (Bajpayee in a dual role), who serves the Shetty brothers and knows a great deal about their shady business practices.

When the lid is blown off their liaison, Swathi and Umesh panic. A string of ill-advised moves lands them in a soup. A sudden death, a pell-mell cover-up and a grotesque facial reconstruction later, their lies, betrayal and deception assume near-diabolical proportions.

Chaubey, in concert with co-writers and creators Anaiza Merchant, Anant Tripathi and Harshad Nalawade, rustles up a gripping, darkly comic crime drama that knows exactly where it is headed but succeeds in keeping the audience on tenterhooks.

Like Chaubey’s films, the series is rooted in a defined, immersive, authentic space. The soundtrack is, however, a medley of languages and dialects spoken with a variety of accents. The range of linguistic peculiarities and cadences significantly enrich the show.

Tamil, Malayalam and Dakhini liberally punctuate the assortment of Hindi and English dictions that are strewn across the series. Add to that mix Robert Frost’s “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” and Macbeth’s soliloquy “Life’s but a walking shadow”, Scribe’s I Love You, Pav Bhaji and Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” and AR Rahman’s Tu hi re tere bina main kaise jiyu (from Mani Ratnam’s Bombay) and you have one of the most aurally varied Indian web shows ever.

The tangible physical dimensions of the quaint world that Anuj Rakesh Dhawan’s camera captures add to the allure. Roads snake around verdant valleys. Undulating hills strain to pierce the clouds. But under the town’s sleepy surface, forbidden desire, thwarted ambition, blackmail and unholy collusions form a deadly broth.  

As she runs out patience and options, Swathi resorts to desperate measures. Umesh is dragged along, sometimes kicking and whining, at others dithering but giving in. With their lives, relationships and businesses are a “bloody” mess. The men and women in Killer Soup are like trotters in a soup. The more they try to wriggle out, the worse it gets.

Swathi isn’t the only woman striving for a room of her own in Killer Soup. Arvind’s only daughter, Apeksha ‘Appu’ Shetty (Anula Navlekar), aspires to be an artist. She earns a call-up from a prestigious Paris art school. But her father ridicules her for the nudes she draws. He insists she’d be better off taking charge of the family business.

Kirtima (Kani Kusruti), an accountant in Prabhu’s firm and a Kalari exponent, has ambitions beyond the custard tarts she makes to show up Swathi’s paya soup, which lacks a secret ingredient that khansama Mehrunisa (Vaishali Bisht in a cameo of substance) is loath to part with. Could there be more to the rivalry between Swathi and Kirtima? Nothing that is on the oven in Killer Soup is to be discounted.

Killer Soup is a police procedural, too. Inspector Hassan (Nassar), weeks away from retirement, is in no hurry to get to the bottom of Swathi’s claim that her husband was attacked with acid. He isn’t exactly a bumbling cop nor is he a cynical pro. As he says to a junior, “We don’t get paid to think.”

But Thupalli (Anbuthasan), a rookie cop, is one determined bloke. Mixing poetry with policing, he is at the centre of several surreal encounters with Inspector Hassan as the latter looks for clues in hidden in verse.

Chaubey makes his first web show count well beyond the mere generic. The terrain he explores in Killer Soup is far removed from the dusty upcountry locations of Ishqiya and Sonchiriya. The geographical shift yields a captivating show that alternates between slow-burn and breakneck without the slightest wobble in its tonal consistency.  

Killer Soup abides steadfastly by its neo-noir principles but the flawed characters that populate the narrative aren’t evil in the conventional sense. They are at worst crooked and self-serving. Significantly, none of the killings that occur, nor their aftermath, is premeditated.  

Bajpayee and Sen Sharma take on roles unlike any other that they have played before. They strike up a wonderful duet, challenging and enhancing each other in a cat-and-mouse game in which predator and victim frequently swap places and co-conspirators often work at cross-purposes.

Besides Nassar as the avuncular inspector, Lal, cast Appu’s maternal uncle and an Arvind Shetty aide who pulls his punches, and Sayaji Shinde steal many a scene. Kani Kusruti delivers an exceptionally effortless performance. No less noteworthy is Anula Navlekar as a woman trapped in a hellhole.

The background score by Benedict Taylor and Naren Chandavarkar is a delectable smorgasbord of sounds. They flow through the show like rippling water down a stream that constantly changes its pace and rhythm in sync with the winds and the rains.

Sen Sharma’s character asks as the show winds down: “Kaisa laga sabko mera soup (how did you all like my soup)?” The unequivocal answer: We love it.          


Manoj Bajpayee, Konkona Sen Sharma, Nassar, Sayaji Shinde


Abhishek Chaubey


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