A persistent serving of melodrama and a jar of convenience overwhelm the rare tongue-in-cheek black comedy bits in this dish.
Akhil Arora, a member of the Film Critics Guild and a Rotten Tomatoes-certified film critic with over eight years of experience
Killer Soup—the new Netflix series led by Manoj Bajpayee and Konkona Sensharma—has a fairly good idea of the recipe it’s going for: three to four cups of blood, a splash of dark comedy, and a pinch of camp. More or less along the lines of what Bill Hader gave us on Barry, Noah Hawley’s anthology series Fargo, or Martin McDonagh with In Bruges or The Banshees of Inisherin. But just like Bajpayee in the eighth and final episode, Killer Soup spills a whole can of an ingredient that was meant to be used sparingly. In effect, we end up with an entirely different dish altogether. Over and over, the Netflix series swings wildly into histrionics territory, finding itself further and further away from its genre ambitions. By the end, it’s chaotically overcooked.
The stupidest setup of 2024
Its problems are evident from the start. It’s only January, but I’m quite confident in saying that Killer Soup has the stupidest setup you’ll see for a series in 2024. In fact, virtually every dramatic beat in the first episode—and those that follow—is outright annoying, borderline soapy, or laughably ill-conceived. (In most cases, when you’re supposed to laugh with the show, you’re laughing at it.) There are a handful of occasions when the slapstick stuff works or the black comedy bits land as they are meant to, but they are, unfortunately, few and far between. More often than not, it veers closer to a Hera Pheri than a Fargo or Barry. The tones and material Killer Soup is working with require a delicate balance, but it doesn’t have a handle on things.
Nearly all of these faults are down to creators and writers Unaiza Merchant (Jugaadistan), newcomer Anant Tripathi, Harshad Nalawade (Follower), and Abhishek Chaubey (who also directs every episode). Chaubey—best known for the films Udta Punjab, Sonchiriya, and Ishqiya—is by far the biggest off-screen name on Killer Soup, but Chaubey, the director, is let down by Chaubey the writer (and his fellow trio). Every time the Netflix show stabilises and finds its footing, it throws a curveball and flies off the ledge. In my opinion, Killer Soup essentially jumps the shark towards the end of the fifth episode. It’s just way too melodramatic—an aspect that brings the series down repeatedly—and, thereafter, Killer Soup proceeds in a nonsensical manner. I gave up.
Killer Soup plot: two Manoj Bajpayees and one bad cook
Set in the fictional hill town of Mainjur about two-and-a-half hours from Madurai, Killer Soup is centred on housewife and aspiring restaurateur Swathi Shetty (Sensharma) and massage therapist Umesh Mahto/Pillai (Bajpayee), the man she’s having an affair with. After her husband Prabhakar “Prabhu” Shetty (also Bajpayee) learns about the duplicity, the duo knocks him down for good in self-defence. A part of Swathi is actually relieved, for she’s free of her lying, domineering husband—he falsely promised to fund her restaurant dream for years. (It might have had something to do with the fact that Swathi is a terrible one-note cook, and Prabhu was busy sinking millions in his own failed enterprises.) Now, she’s a renewed woman who enjoys a much different power dynamic with Umesh.
To quell concerns surrounding her husband’s disappearance, Swathi follows the most obvious idea in this most obvious setup: turn Umesh into Prabhu. You know, because of similarities in their visual appearance. I don’t need to tell you where this is going. Regardless, the police are pulled into Swathi’s tangled web after the accidental death of a private detective who had been trying to reach Prabhakar in his final moments. Enter Inspector Hassan (Nasser), who’s on the verge of retiring, and newbie ASI Thupalli (Anbuthasan), who’s driven and has a knack for forensics. This is where Killer Soup’s writing problems are once again visible, as the police investigation deliberately slows down so that other narrative tracks can cover more.
Speaking of what goes on elsewhere, the cast of Killer Soup is rounded off by family members and associates. A substantial portion of screentime is devoted to Prabhu’s elder, more successful, widower brother Arvind Shetty (Sayaji Shinde), his only daughter and aspiring artist Apeksha Shetty (Anula Navlekar), and his right-hand man and bodyguard Charles Lucas (Lal). The Netflix series also has room for Swathi and Prabhu’s 18-year-old son, Sandesh “Sandy” Shetty (Jasir), though he’s treated more as window dressing, and Prabhu’s mistress, Kirtima Kadathanathan (Kani Kusruti), who comes to the fore only when she’s relevant to the plot. (Despite being set in Tamil Nadu and following a bunch of locals, Killer Soup forces everyone to talk in Hindi mostly—typical Bollywood.)
Conveniences are the name of the game
But there’s no time to be angry about the obvious pandering to Hindi audiences when there’s so much nonsense elsewhere. Conveniences are the name of the game in the new Netflix series, with inspectors running into evidence with little work, repeatedly finding a computer unlocked even though no one’s been using it, and putting themselves in silly and completely avoidable situations. This applies to other characters, too, who seem to remember the smallest of details while having no clue about what’s right in front of them. Essentially, if it suits the writers, it goes in Killer Soup. That also explains why the police don’t follow basic protocol or the modus operandi in murder investigations.
For what it’s worth, there are moments where the mix of dark comedy is just right. An interrogation scene in the fourth episode is a rare highlight—it’s the first time Killer Soup figures out how to be campy in the right amount—as the suspects derail the police investigation by relying on a mighty combo: squeamishness around sex in India and the hunger for salacious details about the lives of others. And for all its desire to elicit laughs from its violence, Killer Soup is successful in that regard only once (in the seventh episode). But even in that lone instance, it botches the logic of getting there—that’s true of the series as a whole, in fact, as it gets to where it wants to be unconvincingly over and over.
Killer Soup is unappetising and over-flavoured
What it boils down to is that the events of Killer Soup aren’t an organic extension of its hastily assembled setup. You can see the seams of their artificial construction and that the story blocks have been strategically placed so the dominoes fall in the fashion the writers want them to. (Despite the elaborate staging, the finale is a mess.) That’s why certain actions must take ages so that all the other events are possible. Were they to happen earlier, it would derail the entire show.
The people of Killer Soup pick up hush money and take zero precautionary steps before they begin to celebrate. They commit the most basic of mistakes, things they teach you in Murder Cover-Up 101. They leave behind unnecessary physical evidence for others to find so it can kick off a series of events but eventually become a moot point. There’s no shortage of hare-brained schemes or red herrings, all to turn a simple point A to point B journey into a scribbled and jumbled mess.
There are a lot of swirling ideas in Killer Soup—having seen all eight episodes, it’s clear it’s one too many—and the broth comes out as well as the one made by Swathi. And while her creation has a quick fix in the form of a special ingredient, there’s no quick fix in the world of filmmaking. As with (real) cooking, it’s a delicate arrangement of several ingredients in the correct order, the perfect amount, and just enough time. But the new Netflix series gets it wrong—and when you screw up the mix of camp and dark comedy, you threaten to turn into a farce. It’s an unappetising dish that’s crying for someone to hold back the salt. Sadly, the plate has already reached the table.
All eight episodes of Killer Soup released on Thursday, January 11 on Netflix worldwide.