Uttar Pradesh politician Amarmani Tripathi’s campaign to overturn his conviction for murdering poet Madhumita Shukla has found an unusual ally: a discovery+ series that casts doubts on the police investigation as well as recasts the former state minister as a victim of a conspiracy by political rivals.

Shukla, a 24-year-old poet, was pregnant with Tripathi’s child when she was shot dead in her house in Lucknow in 2003. (A post-mortem report proved Tripathi’s parentage.) In 2007, Tripathi was sentenced to life imprisonment along with his wife Madhumani and two others.

The couple have made news for other reasons since being incarcerated. In 2007, Uttar Pradesh’s future Chief Minister Adityanath, who had been jailed for violating prohibitory orders, was treated to a music concert inside Gorakhpur prison that was organised by Tripathi, news reports stated.

In 2015, Tripathi’s son, Amanmani Tripathi, a Member of the Legislative Assembly, was himself accused of murdering his wife. Despite being arrested, Amanmani Tripathi won the Assembly election in 2017 as an independent candidate.

Neither of these recent developments features in Love Kills: Madhumita Shukla Hathyakand. The true crime show is a twisted version of the American podcast Serial, which was credited with helping release a murder convict.

The five-episode Love Kills features extensive interviews with Madhumita Shukla’s sister, Nidhi Shukla, former police officers who were involved with the case and journalists. My only identity is that I am her sister, Nidhi Shukla sadly says at one point.

Love Kills: Madhumita Shukla Hathyakand (2023).

The inclusion of Tripathi’s daughters, Tanushri and Alankrita, initially suggests an attempt at objectivity. Apart from singing the praises of their parents, the women state that their father was guilty of an extra-marital affair rather than murder.

Nidhi Shukla is initially allowed to present her version of events, but is later subjected to a low-grade insistent grilling in an attempt to shake her story. Who has paid Nidhi Shukla’s legal fees, somebody wants to know. Another declaration that Madhumita Shukla had “multiple lovers” is left out there in the open rather than being called out for victim-shaming, .

The show relies on testimonies, rather than fresh evidence, to back its premise. The claims of the Tripathi siblings go unchallenged. Their views are not sought on repeated assertions of intense pressure and arm-twisting by Amarmani Tripathi. These allegations, made by former employees of the Uttar Pradesh police force and the Central Bureau of Investigation, are later dismissed by one of Tripathi’s acolytes as evidence of a “high-level conspiracy” hatched by rivals jealous of his meteoric rise.

Depending on who is doing the talking, Amarmani Tripathi is either a “monster” who manipulated Shukla or, in the words of one of his daughters, “a very beautiful man to look at”. Tripathi was a “helpless victim of hopeless passion”, another subject declares.

Despite muddying the waters, the show cannot bury the fundamental truth about the case: a very young woman, seven months pregnant with her married lover’s child, was killed in her home. A few insights survive the show’s partisan agenda.

Before she is sought to be discredited, Nidhi Shukla paints a complicated portrait of her sister, whose aggressive oratory earned her fame at a young age. Madhumita Shukla would wear extra sets of clothing to appear older than she was, her sibling recalls.

The sensational case was an early indication of the lawlessness that gripped Uttar Pradesh in the 2000s, notes one of the subjects. Tripathi’s ascent through the 1980s and 1990s is described as proof of the growing influence of strongmen and power brokers in state politics.

This phenomenon has inspired several films and web series. In the imagination of filmmakers, the badlands of Uttar Pradesh are crawling with entitled men – and some women – who pervert the law to achieve their goals and operate in a culture of impunity that often crushes the marginalised. In Love Kills, the eagle-eyed viewers, despite being nudged in the opposite direction, might spot evidence of the cocktail of power, money, sex and ambition that led to Madhumita Shukla’s killing.