Ru(II)-p-cymene complexes (1–3) containing picolyl based pseudo-acylthiourea ligands (L1-L3) were synthesized and characterized. The crystallographic study confirmed the molecular structures of all the ligands (L1-L3) and complex 3. The catalytic activity of the complexes was tested mainly towards TH of carbonyl compounds and nitroarenes. The influence of steric and electronic effects of the ligands on the chemoselectivity and reactivity were reported. The catalytic activity was enhanced and chemoselectivity was switched after tuning the ligands in the catalysts, compared to their corresponding unmodified Ru(II)-p-cymene complexes. The catalysis was extended to a broad range of substrates including some challenging systems like furfural, benzoylpyridine, benzoquinone, chromanone, etc. The strategy of tuning the bifunctional ligands in the catalysts for effective and selective catalysis worked nicely. Further, the catalysis was extended to one pot synthesis of 3-isopropoxyindole from 2-nitrocinnamaldehyde, the first synthetic route similar to Baeyer Emmerling indole synthesis. All the catalytic experiments exhibited high conversion and selectivity. © 2019 Elsevier B.V.