Zoya Akhtar has roped the audience in her magic, once again. Though this time, she uses episodic storytelling to help us realize the duality of a curated heaven versus the painstaking reality of life.
Set in the Beverly Hills equivalent of India, South Delhi serves as the grand canvas for the exorbitant weddings of Delhi’s elite. These weddings are planned and executed by Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur) who serve as the anti heroes of the show. The two go along creating a production at various weddings, while the audience takes a back seat and revels in the glitz, glam, and scandal. One would think that this show is about the culture of how India’s wealthiest put on a display via their soon to be married children [and don’t get me wrong, it sure is], but it arguably comes down to the culture of curating our lives in the eyes of others [Hellllo, Instagram]. Made In Heaven puts the workings of Tara and Karan's life on display, and sometimes, cringingly so.
The first episode begins with Tara telling Karan to change his leather jacket to a blazer as they go to woo a potential high profile client. This small act makes a thought provoking statement about image. A thought most can agree with in the digital age, is the thought of preparing our lives to seem a picture-perfect way to onlookers. By portraying our lives in a certain way to our followers, we are letting this cosmetic image define us more than our actual traits and life stories. This is invariably best demonstrated by Tara, who initially comes from a lower middle class family, where her mom despicably tells her “All you have is your youth and beauty”. Through a line of flashbacks, the audience is able to piece together that Tara has taken measured actions in order to thrive amongst the elite of Delhi. That the image she is posting for the world to see, is something she has run through with multiple filters, adjusting the warmth, structure, and removing her blemishes. This is what looks best in a square frame, after all [yes, my dear reader, I am talking about you, too]. As the show progresses, there is a sense of internal conflict within the audience's mind, where you are unable to decide whether Tara’s duplicitous actions are within your line of ethics or if you would try to sympathize if this was you. The beauty of the show thrives in this gray area.
One part of the show which is crystal clear, is that Karan is gay. Making leaps in Indian cinema, Karan outwardly says to Jazz (Jaspreet), a production assistant, who is making an advance at him, “What are you doing? I am gay.” The writers clearly knew how to make statements, and this was a statement which will be heard through the ages. In an effort to bring the reality of a gay man alive, specifically, in a show where society lives amidst heterosexuality as the norm, this was simply incredible. From the passionate encounters of Karan’s daily flings, to being spied on and then subsequently thrown in jail by his neighbor, the viewers voyeuristic tendencies are at display. As viewers of the world around us, it is so easy to look at the lives of others with judgement and curious delight. This not only addresses the deep rooted prejudice against people in society who do not follow the norm, but brings light to the adversities faced by those who are gay, transgender, asexual, or fall in the continuum of sexuality and gender. Herein lies the brilliance of Zoya Akhtar: through very important issues, such as the mistreatment of the LGBTQ+ community, Akhtar demonstrates that even though someone is gay, they are not excused from the happenings of life. In addition to financial instability, rocky-relationships, silent sufferings of their neutral families, people who are marginalized have to endure hatred in many forms while trying to keep sane, creating a life for themselves.
Though Tara and Karan are in the front-lines, the characters with smaller roles breath life into this show. Jazz, mentioned earlier, is a girl from the outskirts of Delhi, who comes into the absurdity of f*ck you money. Jazz’s reality serves as a gentle reminder of the billions in India who do not hold the wealth of the country in their hands. Jazz works tirelessly, has moments of self-doubt, even gets into trouble with her bosses, but ultimately, her “heart comes from a good place”. As she brings moments of hilarity, in this otherwise greyscale show, you also see the heartbreaking backstory her family deals with--addiction. Her 20 year old brother is addicted to opioids (presumably some form of heroin, though never explicitly stated), a class of drugs well distributed in the regions of Punjab and Northern India. Jazz’s family brings a palpable feeling of a family going through the bouts of distress when a family member is addicted and the veil of darkness it ultimately puts on them.
The only character who witnesses Jazz’s personal life is Kabir the cameraman, my personal favorite. Kabir captures the ‘happiest’ moments of the beginnings of two lives joined together. He has a boyish ease to him, whilst his head remains in the clouds. He serves as the soundboard for all of the absurdities going on in the lives of his colleagues, while maintaining a non-judgemental front. He is who we should strive to be--observing the truths of others without any judgement and speaking out to the unjust realities we witness in the world. He also has a non-fling [yeah, that is a thing] with Jazz, summing up the non-committal millennial dating experience, while serving as the person who makes permanent memories of commitment through his lense, once again adding fuel to the hypocrisies of life in 2019.
One thing that makes this show such a delight is the straight up shattering of barriers by women: a bride walking away from her own wedding because she finds out the groom and his family are demanding dowry, a woman in her 60s who falls in love and marries again, whilst her bratty children are upset about “how it looks”, a hindu girl, defying her parents, to marry the love of her life, who happens to be Christian. Akhtar makes it a point to show a woman as her own cheerleader, with no regard of opinions from the peanut gallery (looking at you, aunty-ji). Akhtar along with Kagti [co-creator], weave this in the fabric of their storytelling while trying to elucidate the lives of the elite. Rich people have problems, too, you know.
In anyone’s heaven which has been created, there is a personal hell thriving parallel to it in this show. The dichotomy of the Instagram Filter versus Real Life summarizes the human condition for the characters in Made In Heaven. The lengths one goes to in order to create a convincing outwardly appearance for those steadily scrolling through their feeds is just as unreasonable as it is ubiquitous. Tara and Karan aren’t the only ones curating their lives; all of us are. One thing is clear, I did not feel one way or the other whilst watching the show: the lies, cheating, deceit, was all okay. It demonstrated that though we, as humans, have created moral operating platforms for what is and what is not, we largely exist in the limbo of our decisions. Black and white can never exist so as long as we are human. What started off for me as a mind-numbing drama, turned into an embarrassingly long 8-hour binge. Made in Heaven is made to succeed and I give it a 4/5.