On the surface level, “Made in Heaven” looks like just another take on the drama behind the deceptively perfect big fat Indian wedding. So many Indian shows and movies have worked their stories around the backdrop of weddings that wedding fiction should be its own genre in Bollywood and Indian TV.
The cynical tone of Made in Heaven‘s trailer mocked me to dare assume that this web series is going to be yet another story of wedding planners falling in love. And yet here I am, after a whole day of binge-watching nine episodes, awed by Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava’s masterful writing, and haunted by their characters.
Made in Heaven follows the stories of wedding planners and business partners Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur). While each episode tracks a different wedding, the crux of the show are the leads and their employees. Some weddings come with a story to root for, whether it is the bride who courageously walks away from her own wedding as she discovers that her fiancè has demanded dowry, or the heartwarming story of an elderly couple who fell in love in their sixties.
The show sheds light on the sexual assault that occurs in these wealthy weddings, the virginity tests, the deception and the hypocrisies. But as the show progresses, the weddings take a backseat, and we start to fall for the unlikeable leads, while the beautiful and bittersweet friendship between Tara and Karan ultimately becomes the heart and soul of the show.
Made in Heaven is conceived, written and directed by women, and it is easy to see how the show has managed to portray the moral ambivalence of a woman perfectly. There are unlikeable female characters, and then there’s Tara. Her character questions and shatters the stereotypes of the other woman, the gold digger and female ambition. Tara is relentless in her pursuits, unapologetic about her choices and knows when and how to play her cards. She’s gray, selfish, arrogant and manipulative, but she’s also insecure, kind, smart and passionate. It wouldn’t be a lie if I professed her as one of the most well-rounded and complex female characters I have ever seen on screen. At times I was in awe at her strength and smartness, then she transfixed me with her sinister and diabolical side. Tara is the kind of female character that is never written into stories, but in Made in Heaven she’s the protagonist, and she owns that space.
As much as I adored Tara, my favorite character was Karan, who is as imperfect and selfish as Tara. When the show begins, he had figured out a formula for his life. As a gay man, he is out to the most important people in his life. He doesn’t consider himself an activist of any means, he enjoys a string of one night stands, chooses to bribe a police officer when he catches him making out with a man in his car, rather than speaking up or calling any attention to himself, and is comfortable with his sexuality and the society’s perception of him. But he is not let to live in his safety bubble for long, and the show is blunt and real about gay rights in India. In one heartbreaking episode, his dignity, privacy, and rights are all stripped away, and even as he moves on, he loses the sense of normalcy he has been craving since the beginning.
Each supporting character is fleshed out and flawed, yet it’s impossible to hate any one of them. Tara’s husband Adil is a smooth-talking asshole who is given more depth due to the charm Jim Sarbh oozes into his character. Anyone other than Kalki Koechlin would have made Tara’s best friend Faiza into the stereotypical ‘other woman’, but she manages to shatter all the traditional labels bestowed upon similar characters. There’s Jazz, who has the ambition and aspiration of Tara and is as practical as she is idealistic. Kabir, with his philosophical narration, knowing eyes and understanding heart. Shibani, the single mother who takes no excuses for not being paid enough. And special mention to Vikrant Massey whose short cameo is the most heartbreaking moment in the entire show.
Made in Heaven is aesthetically stunning, visually brilliant and presents a clever take on non-linear narration. But what triumphs is the boldness of its subject matters, authenticity in its writing and masterful crafting of characters. This is a show that questions multiple age-old stereotypes that exist in Bollywood and Indian media, and paves the way for positive change, especially in the portrayal of women and sexuality. It is undoubtedly a must watch, hats off to creators Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti who have taken this year by storm once again.
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