By Pradeep Menon Sep. 23, 2022
Hush Hush is a familiar tale of elite crimes, but it is elevated by fantastic performances delivered by a diverse group of formidable actresses.
Hush Hush, the new Amazon Prime original series helmed by Tanuja Chandra (who has also directed four of the seven episodes), has a peculiar quality about it. This is a show that aims to talk about the state of women in the world, in two different ways – how it is, intertwined generously with how its creators wish it could have been (but isn’t). Nearly every character we meet tends to straddle these two strands of thought – in the way they speak, emote and behave. This, perhaps, is the primary attribute that turns this otherwise familiar story about the grotesque morality (and resulting crimes) of the rich and powerful, into a compelling one.
At the centre of this Gurugram-based yarn is a group of four friends – Ishi (Juhi Chawla), Saiba (Soha Ali Khan), Zaira (Shahana Goswami) and Dolly (Kritika Kamra). Their text group chat is called ‘Four Goddesses’. Appropriate in retrospect, considering the show sometimes does feel like a cross between Four More Shots Please! and Angry Indian Goddesses – with a dash of Big Little Lies sprinkled in. Each of the four has a strong personality of their own, with their respective individual grey-tinted arcs followed through the story. How the four of them came to be friends is a bit of a mystery, and perhaps one of the big misses of the show, considering their friendship seems resilient no matter how much or how often it wobbles.
A first episode murder sets a cascading set of mysteries and revelations into motion, as secrets tumble out from each of the four women’s lives, even as a fifth – a feisty cop called Geeta (Karishma Tanna) – sets out to solve the murder.
Chawla’s Ishi happens to be the most prolific of the lot. She is a lobbyist in the corridors of power, and the story begins with her fall from grace. Like reality maybe, her unscrupulous lobbying and power-broking is exposed, leaving her reputation in tatters as soon as the exposé breaks into the news cycle. (The name ‘Ishi’ itself is a curious choice, because you’re often wondering, ‘Is she…?’ – with regards to her character, in a wide range of contexts.) A first episode murder sets a cascading set of mysteries and revelations into motion, as secrets tumble out from each of the four women’s lives, even as a fifth – a feisty cop called Geeta (Karishma Tanna) – sets out to solve the murder.
All through Hush Hush, you get to see women who truly understand and support other women. So, an unabashedly ‘sensationalist’ reporter stands down from covering a funeral with little resistance, because another woman tells her to respect the intimacy of the moment. A nagging mother-in-law gently grows to understand her daughter-in-law’s angst and makes overtures towards her. A foul-mouthed, hard-as-nails senior police officer gives her young female subordinate the leeway that no one else would have, letting her run solely on her ‘feelings/intuition’. An upmarket fashion label also happens to be a female-dominated workplace, where women are insufferable towards their subordinates, but somehow stand by their insufferable bosses in a toxic cycle of mutual dependence. There’s even an extortion that’s just forgiven, because empathy.
All through Hush Hush, you get to see women who truly understand and support other women.
The show does have a number of terrible men, but it also somehow has its fair share of understanding, empathetic ones as well. The frequent maturity on display feels unrecognisable in the real world. Then again, there are times when the show gets too real. Crimes against women – big and small, visible and invisible – are all-pervasive. The women also tend to blame themselves for everything. Most importantly, while it doesn’t shy away from saying that men make the world a terrible place, it doesn’t attempt to absolve women of the sins of society either.
Dialogue writer Juhi Chaturvedi deserves credit for lines that elevate tough situations for characters into thought-provoking moments. Especially because of the hurdle caused by the growing tendency of Indian streaming content to aggressively balance ‘niche’ and ‘mass’, with an unwieldy khichdi of Hindi, English and Hinglish. Luckily, the women tasked with the most cumbersome lines are able to at least deliver them with a straight face. Shahana Goswami is a natural at it; Soha Ali Khan relies on the Pataudi in her; Kritika Kamra does a fair job with clunky word jumbles, and Juhi Chawla escapes the worst of the language khichdi, because truth be told, she gets far less screen time than you would expect, considering she’s at the centre of the poster and the plot.
Even though the show has a persistent artfully-grimy-gloss vibe about it, you can tangibly sense the effort that has gone into crafting a handful of strong women who can usually find their own ways out of messes they have either created themselves, or have been thrown into by others.
Even though the show has a persistent artfully-grimy-gloss vibe about it, you can tangibly sense the effort that has gone into crafting a handful of strong women who can usually find their own ways out of messes they have either created themselves, or have been thrown into by others. Of the five main characters, Goswami’s Zaira (a rising star in the fashion industry and a terrifying boss) and Kamra’s Dolly (a woman in a marital quagmire) get the greyest, most intriguing personal stories, followed by Tanna’s Inspector Geeta. Soha Ali Khan’s Saiba reminds us that Hindi fiction creators just don’t know or care about how journalists and journalism are shown on screen, while Ishi is such a mess of contradictions that it is hard to keep up. Warts and all, it is these five who drive much of the intrigue on the show, so despite not designed to be strictly likeable as people, it’s hard not to root for them. Along with Chawla, Ayesha Jhulka’s small but significant presence in a thankless role turns up the 90s nostalgia, while Vibha Chibber is a knockout in her limited runtime.
While some of the male cast is competent, it feels like the men have been cast to ensure that they don’t have a chance of stealing the spotlight. It is a thriller at the end of the day, but even the thrills are subservient to how exactly the women navigate the dark alleyways they are faced with. While there’s no hiding from the fact that some of the biggest twists and reveals on the show don’t always live up to expectations, it is the primary cast that does much of the heavy lifting, as they all motor the murky mystery towards a cliff-hanger finale of a season that, at the very least, demands a second one.