Who doesn’t like aam ka achaar or mango pickle? As soon as you put a slice of that pickled mango in your mouth, there is an explosion of flavors. You begin by tasting the tanginess of a mango and the spicy mixture it marinates in, followed by a flavored oil that leaves behind a sweet aftertaste in your mouth. Aam ka achaar is a summer delicacy for Indians, while achaar, or pickle, is a staple dietary condiment in most Indian households. As we see in one of the scenes in this show, a bite of achaar can even make an unwilling kid finish his plate of gobi ke paranthe, or cauliflower stuffed flatbread, swiftly. Precisely put, achaar is the solution to all problems, although in Suman’s life it becomes a resounding metaphor for relationships, passion, reclamation of her identity, and business goals. Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt Ltd is a new TVF show on the block that promises to oust other OTT shows with its simplicity, everydayness, and bittersweetness, being markers of a TVF creation and a well-pickled achaar.
Set in the lanes of Old Delhi, Suman, played by Amruta Subhash, is a divorced mother of two children, Juhi and Rishu. She wishes to set out on the entrepreneurial adventure of selling her achaar to earn money for supporting her kids and move her children out of her ex-husband (played by Anup Soni), Dilip’s home. Supporting her in this venture are her mother-in-law (played by Yamini Das) and her initially-stealthy-but-later-friendly neighbor, Shukla Ji (played by Anandeshwar Dwivedi).
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The main plot revolves around Suman as she progresses from selling her achaar in plastic packets in local buses to distributing it with a label of Wonder Achaar in the whole of Daryaganj, posing herself as a direct competitor to Dilip’s job at Best Foods Pvt. Ltd. It gives us a peek into the ecosystem of locally manufactured goods and their curious marketing techniques. The story of this business can be best summarized in Shukla Ji’s words, who very profoundly tells in one of the scenes in the second half of the show that life is like a passenger train, it might make too many stops in between but will ultimately reach the destined train station (read: Delhi) when it has to.
But this six-episodes-long show is not merely about how a middle-aged, inadequately educated, middle-class Hindu mother stumbles into a life of professional success after being separated from her husband. The world around Suman is very much alive, bustling, and has been given its own space to blossom. Dilip is now married to a divorcee, Manisha (played by Anjana Sukhani), and they live in their house with Juhi, Rishu, Manisha’s son, Vivaan, and his mother. The kids are growing up; this TV show also becomes the story of how children deal with their parents’ separation and grow in the presence of a stepmother.
In fact, one of my favorite things about this show was that it took the two most villainized characters in popular Indian soaps – the mother-in-law and the step-mother – and polished away all the age-old misogyny from their characters to present us with two very understanding and nurturing human beings. An episode into the show, when Juhi steals some cash from Manisha’s wardrobe and later confesses to her, I was almost expecting a glaringly dramatic outcome; creators Apoorv Singh Karki and Arunabh Kumar know better. It not only leaves you feeling a little warm towards Manisha but drives home the idea that talking with your children instead of outright punishing them for their activities is always a better upbringing tactic. That Dilip’s method of physical punishment has unwelcome effects on his children is also highlighted in the show and contrasted against Manisha’s budding relationship with Juhi, Suman’s eldest.
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Further, Manisha is not pitted against Suman and her motherhood. There is a moment in the show when Manisha is standing in the courtyard of the house, while Suman stands parallel to her on the street right outside the house, with an open window that allows them to see each other and recognize their positions with respect to the house and their relationship with the family. They are both middle-class mothers, achaar-making and taking care of their family, but never do they become rivals for Dilip’s affections.
The relationship between Suman and her mother-in-law is really the sweet mango pickle that situates itself at the heart of this TV show. Early in the show, when Suman boards a state bus to sell her achaar, despite all the lessons she has been made to by heart, she stands dumbfounded in the passage. She has never had to go out into the world and do anything like this. She is unsure where to begin and only started churning out the lines from her memory when her mother-in-law steps in with her enthusiastic cry and saves her day. Their exchanges are also the star of the show. When Suman complains about the repeated use of the phrase ‘sab theek ho jaayega’, or everything will be fine’, the mother-in-law tells her that she believes if you repeat this phrase enough times in your mind, ‘jo galat hai, who bhi thoda thoda sahi lagne laagta hai’, or you start taking the wrong for the right. At no moment in this show does this saas-bahu relationship suffer from the bruise of bad writing or inadequate commitment.
Although we get some idea about Dilip, the show doesn’t do enough to hold up the shades of his character for the audience. He is primarily the bad guy, and we are on Juhi’s side when she rebukes him in one of the final scenes. There is a subplot featuring drug abuse which seems forced and unnecessary for the plot development. Like any other TVF show, this show, too, tends to water down the complexities of relationships. I also thought Juhi’s relationship with Suman and her growing fondness for Manisha could have been better explored to arrive at Juhi’s big decision in the end. Suman’s side of the story takes up a lot of space, and whatever space is available isn’t enough to make all the loose ends meet in the narrative. The finale does feel a little rushed and diluted with sweet-as-sugar exchanges, highly unfit for the linear progress of the rest of the show. Can the show come back for another season? Only the producers and the taste of Suman’s wonder achaar can answer that question!
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Saas Bahu Achaar Pvt. Ltd. is a delightful sketch of a middle-class North Indian family. It features some of the most heart-warming performances I have seen in recent OTT shows, after Panchayat Season 2, by Amruta Shubhash, Yamini Das, and Anjana Sukhani. Shubhash, famous for her stellar performance in Gully Boy, is equally good when she is daydreaming about her business, slapping herself in front of a mirror, or explaining business strategy to her group of workers. This show is for every time you want to feel grounded in reality after having a bad day at work. It works as well as Suman’s wonder achaar to turn your bland OTT watching experience into a hearty affair.