Trigger warning: Death by suicide, child sex trafficking, murder
Hush Hush is a star-studded web series on Amazon Prime directed by Tanuja Chandra and written by Shikha Sharma and Ashish Mehta.
The seven-episode murder mystery thriller is a high-society drama that explores hush-hush themes ranging from personal and private taboos like mental health, sexuality, infertility, and infidelity, to matters that are of public concern such as murder, and child sex trafficking.
From the first look of Hush Hush, one gets a sense of the Primetime Emmy Award-winning series Big Little Lies (2017) as the story follows the lives of four rich ladies and a female inspector. Just like the American counterpart, there is a suicide/murder mystery investigation underway, in which all of the women characters of Hush Hush are involved.
The premise of the show also reminds one of the Indian film Angry Indian Goddesses (2015) in which themes such as homosexuality, patriarchy, and power are discussed through the friendship of the all-female protagonists. But this is where the comparisons end.
Hush Hush is a story explored through the kinship between four women: Ishi (Juhi Chawla), Saiba (Soha Ali Khan Pataudi), Zaira (Shahana Goswami), and Dolly (Kritika Kamra). The narrative is built around finding the truth behind Ishi’s death which is suspected to be a murder by Inspector Geeta (Karishma Tanna).
Through the investigation, we explore the inner battles in the lives of these women as well as uncover the hidden truths of high societies. As the story progresses, none of the issues brought forward and discussed are surprising to the viewer. After all, these are all hush-hush hidden truths of the society we all know about, but turn a blind eye to.
The writing is clever. The story gives each character a hush-hush situation they need to address head-on using the plot device of Ishi’s death as the catalyst. Ishi herself is a complex character who pretends to have benefitted from the system.
She is an orphan who was a pickpocket as a child and in the present is a lobbyist involved in a money laundering scandal. She is cryptic and mysterious, but a trusted and powerful person in the lobby business. Wielding the power over the flow of money, she crafts herself a back-story of being brought up in England that no one questions and she moves upwards in society only to be brought down by her own past.
Saiba is a former journalist and a mother of two children. Her decision to leave her career is questioned by her boss and colleagues. She has to fight the inner battle of what defines being a good mother and a full-time career woman while also supporting her husband’s upward mobility in his career. The power to choose may look like hers, but is it really so?
Zaira, on the other hand, is a fashion designer launching her own international store of wedding couture. She is romantically involved with a married man and depends on him emotionally. She is seen navigating the arbitrariness of her successful career as her emotional core falters.
Dolly, who has the most character development in the show, is struggling in a marriage where her mother-in-law is both a victim and enabler of patriarchy. She is pressurised by her in-laws to produce an heir for the family. She is powerless in this fight as her husband is infertile, but is told repeatedly to compromise. The series ends with her moving out of her in-law’s house, a move by which she can exercise some control over her married life.
Inspector Geeta is a sensitive police inspector who has the agency to exercise her intuition. She is also a divorcee and a closeted lesbian in a relationship. The power she wields in her department is thanks to her senior A.C.P Madhu (Vibha Chibber), who encourages her police work but is powerless when the case is handed over to a male inspector in the CBI.
Two note-worthy performances are by Kavya Trehan who plays Zaira’s unhinged assistant who blackmails the crew using a fake mental health diagnosis and Ayesha Jhulka who plays Meera, Ishi’s friend from childhood, who runs the orphanage but is involved in a child sex racket on the side.
As Hush Hush progresses, we start to uncover the layers of hushed secrets and half-truths that make it apparent who has the decisive power. But that is where the show falters. The story tries to follow the money trail that leads to men in power in politics through crimes against women committed by women.
There is so much attention given to portraying women as flawed characters that the men in the show are sloppily written and are hardly present to challenge the injustices of patriarchy. As much as the women are given the agency of making their own choices and mistakes, Hush Hush proves that they are only able to do so because the enablers of patriarchy ‘allow’ them to do so.
This is captured in the epilogue when the man behind the events that lead to Ishi’s death is revealed. The show ends with him saying, “The fact is that a woman has to have the support of a father, husband or a son to live comfortably life long.” This dialogue takes away from the progress and character development we are promised at the beginning of the show.
While Hush Hush opens up the debate around patriarchy being the ultimate villain, it fails to make better use of it as a plot device. Themes such as the rich v. poor, mental health v. psychopathy, and ethical v. unethical, are all clubbed together, and the climax becomes messy without proper salvation for anybody.