Right from its first teaser trailer, Prime Video’s newest thriller Hush Hush gave off strong Big Little Lies vibes. Both are shows about female high-society friends embroiled in a scandal not of their own choosing. But that is where the similarities end. Big Little Lies was a powerhouse, taking a simple plot and telling it in a compelling manner. Hush Hush takes the other route by taking a promising premise, setting it up beautifully, and then losing the plot completely in a manner that is just befuddling. With all the talent and promise it contains, and the glimpses of masterful storytelling early on, it ends up becoming a sad story of ‘what could have been’. (Also read: Hush Hush trailer: Juhi Chawla, Soha Ali Khan and their gang of rich ladies give max Big Little Lies vibes)
Set in posh Gurgaon, Hush Hush follows four fast friends, power broker Ishi Sanghamitra (Juhi Chawla), former journalist Saiba (Soha Ali Khan), fashion designer Zaira (Shahana Goswami), and homemaker Dolly (Kritika Kamra). After an untoward incident at a party, they find their lives are spiralling out of control as they are thrust in the middle of a crime that may be too big for them to comprehend. As they try to save themselves, hot on their heels is a smart cop Geeta Tehlan (Karishma Tanna) and some mysterious shady men. The premise, setting, and tenor of the show are all fresh and new. The all-female cast and crew selection doesn’t feel like a gimmick at all. Everything fits right into place, but only in the beginning.
Hush Hush takes a running start. It sets up the characters, their backstories, equations with one another, and intricate subplots all rather beautifully. Three-four episodes in, you are really invested into the mystery and waiting for it to unravel. Tanuja Chandra brings her experience of directing classics such as Dushman and Sangharsh, lending it to the long format quite well. But the payoff never arrives. Instead of the mystery, the entire show unravels, or rather implodes on itself.
In any good thriller, the loose threads should come together and converge upon a single focal point for some kind of resolution. In Hush Hush, they further branch out instead. It seemed that after a while, the storytellers were more focussed on leaving as many things unanswered as possible to set up multiple cliffhangers for a potential season 2. That can always be a welcome thing but the plot does need to come together before all that. There needs to be some payoff, some resolution of emotions and storylines in a seven-episode arc. The numerous red herrings and sub plots begin to seem like distractions because many of them, quite frankly, seem to have no connection to the characters or their motivations.
The thing that works for Hush Hush is its setting in the ultra-posh Golf Course Road of Gurgaon, where the rich, powerful, and mighty of India reside. The affluence and the influence of the characters and the starkness of violence in the middle of it sets up the shock beautifully. Anybody with some familiarity with the region would appreciate it more. But even those who have never set foot in Delhi-NCR will identify how the place is almost a character–a representation of decadent power in the story.
The performances help too. Juhi Chawla, in her OTT debut, tries hard with whatever little she has been given. It’s an honest performance if not a powerful one. She can never create the aura that her character demands but certainly brings the vulnerability it needs. Her fellow 90s Bollywood heroine Ayesha Jhulka is her perfect foil. The scenes involving the two actors are among the best. Soha Ali Khan and Kritika Kamra come through beautifully as well, wonderfully depicting how high-society living can be a trap for women. Shahana, I felt, was dealt a raw hand with a character so underdeveloped that she was at a disadvantage as compared to the other protagonists. Karishma Tanna as the Haryanvi cop is believable and likable despite a fluctuating accent that’s at best distracting, at worst annoying. Apart from the main cast, veterans Benjamin Gilani and Vibha Chhibber shine through in brief but powerful roles.
Hush Hush falters because it is unsure what it wants to be or wants to say. It is, at times, a commentary on the powerful and corrupt in India. At other times, it is a mirror of the depravity in the country’s ultra-rich. And at its core, it is also a whodunnit. The trouble is that the show can’t multitask. So, the moment it tries to play up one aspect, another suffers. Whole threads and sub plots are abandoned for episodes, characters are introduced without context, and characters behave out of character a little too often and conveniently. As I said, it’s a sad, little case of ‘what if’ and ‘what could have been’. It feels even worse because in parts, it does fulfill that initial promise, but only barely. The talent–both in front of the camera and behind–deserved better. As do we all.
Series: Hush Hush
Director: Tanuja Chandra
Cast: Juhi Chawla, Soha Ali Khan, Kritika Kamra, Shahana Goswami, Karishma Tanna, and Ayesha Jhulka.