Made in Heaven
I admit I watched Made in Heaven,predominantly, because a dear friend, Anil Lakhwani, worked on the series. I also have a deep respect for the writing and overall aesthetic of Zoya Akhtar (she being my favourite director in Bollywood). I began watching the series with a sense of trepidation, knowing of its premise: the story surrounding the two main leads who are wedding planners, in Delhi. Each episode deals with a different wedding and the stories of the protagonists’ personal lives.
As I watched the first episode, I smiled at the wonderful Neena Gupta, who was such a relatable punjabi lady. And yes, I cringed at the depiction of a gay man, played by a cis-male, Arjun Mathur. Not because of his acting prowess, mind, but, because, I thought, like so many film makers, this depiction would be one that surmised homosexuality as just random sex-seeking and angst, against one’s own different self. The gay kiss was where I rolled my eyes – could they not have found an actor who was comfortable playing a gay man?
Then my friend, who had worked on the series and who I watched the series with, mentioned, “do you know how difficult it is to find an actor who is willing to play a gay man in Indian cinema?” I nodded. I didn’t say anything because I understood and was conflicted. Gay men have been playing straight roles all the time. But that’s our society and a different topic altogether. But a straight man, who should – ideally – value his work ethic and, for that matter, work with someone like Zoya, should jump at this role… Then again, that’s how I think and not how the world operates.
So, I decided to give the series another two episodes, before I called quits on it. However – the second episode got me hooked, and I finished the series, over a night’s viewing. That, in itself, should state how marvellous it is. But if it doesn’t, let me go on with the review.
Each episode deals with a marriage. We have a whole plethora of people being a part of them. Weddings, and the planning of, dealing with the concerns from royal households to that of a common man. Women, who are avaricious and succumb, like all flawed humanity, to the whims of this material world, to women who are empowered and revolt against patriarchal structures, encapsulate this world of marriage, life and love. We are shown grit and determination and then, also, the giving up of the self, love and practicality. Each marriage has something to convey to the Indian milieu – and it’s not just the people speaking English who this refers to. But perhaps, that’s who will end up watching this lovely depiction of the institution that is marriage.
Sobitha Dhulipala, who plays Tara, kept reminding me of Angelina Jolie. And like the latter’s choice of roles, Tara plays this ambitious woman who rises from the lower rungs of society and reaches the place in the ladder she wants to set foot on. Machiavelli would be proud, up to the point, of course, where the character starts her climb and the grey begins to show, soon after.
This is the best part of the show, there is no black and white. There are role reversals and people soaring to loveliness and they being equally capable of plunging into nastiness.
In one of these various shades of grey, falls Arjun Mathur’s character, Karan. Arjun plays the role with an angst unique to the gay subculture. He hits the role with a vulnerability that is discernible, in flashes, to only the most attentive watcher. He makes the character personal and tragic, elevating himself to the stage of coming out and accepting who he himself is. But this journey is not singular, it is taken by all the main leads and is superlative to watch.
The lovemaking doesn’t seem forced (though I will say, Arjun Mathur had to play a top gay man – I guess, showing a passive gay man would push the buck for an actor to pick up the role [?] but then I can also say that showing a femme gay man would also play into one of the many generic stereotypes that gay people have battled against, for so long). Conflict seems to be the name of the game – and alas, life.
Arjun’s love story and the character graph is one of the most intense ones – though I would also say, hurried. It appears most of our lives are encapsulated in nine hours. Most of us gay boys go through what he has gone through. The internalised homophobia, the phobic parent, the sexual abuse by the powers that be, the love gone wrong, the ease of finding sex, the extortion and, yet, the finding of help and succour in the face of adversity. We have all been there in bits and parts. He has brought it out so wonderfully – so sensitively. The scene at the dinner table with his father, where he breaks down and cries, remains my favourite.
I must also talk about the very complex character portrayal of Ramesh Gupta, played by the indomitable Vinay Pathak. The nuanced performance is fantastic, and he deserves a stalwart commendation. He portrays all that could go wrong when one is not true to who he or she is – he is what reality can be.
Homosexual sub culture is neither glamourised nor treated with disdain. It is what it is – another facet of humanity that needs to be recognised and accepted.
It is not just Arjun’s work, but the absolute genius of the side actor casting that needs worthy mention. Ayesha Raza, Kalki Koechlin (shining in a superb portrayal of a kind woman, lost in the understanding of who she is and what she wants), Jim Sarbh (the suave, eligible man who cannot profess his love and cannot be honest about it and so compensates for it in various other ways) – all fantastic!
Two episodes stand out as my favourites: “The Price of Love” where the bride rocks and becomes a personification of women empowerment and “It’s Never Too Late” where Dipti Naval is, as usual, brilliant and such a pleasure to watch. Feminism stands balanced in every episode, with a healthy dose of the portrayal of women who are gentle and cruel, lost and strong, ambitious and content. The best part is that I could feel, as I watched these episodes, that the writers were hardly ever passing judgement. They have tackled the topic of not just feminism and alternate lifestyles but also of drugs, corruption and the helping power of good counselling.
I have not seen such a web series in a very long time. It is, in equal proportions, mature and engaging, liberal and empowering, engaging and staid. I applaud all the makers behind this venture: with a special brava to the writer-directors: Alankrita Shrivastava, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, and two thumbs up to the other directors: Nitya Mehra and Prashant Nair.
Absolutely cool, will definitely be spreading the word.