By Pankaj Sachdeva

Marriages are said to be made in heaven but are celebrated on earth. Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s Made In Heaven takes a behind-the-scenes look at the weddings of the rich upper-class elite of Delhi. The nine-episode series—directed by a team of Zoya Akhtar, Alankrita Shrivastava, Nitya Mehra, and Prashant Nair—chronicles the story of Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur), running a wedding-planning company called Made In Heaven in Delhi.

All the episode in the series depict a wedding that runs into some kind of a problem. Tara and Karan go above and beyond their role to get the wedding done. The issues they solve provide a commentary on the patriarchal rules and the regressive customs that are still being followed in the society. Having enormous wealth does not necessarily bring a progressive outlook. Issues, such as virgin brides, working women, inter-faith marriages, honor killings, blue blood, superstitions, and dowry, continue to make or break weddings.

It is ironical that both Tara and Karan who solve the problems of other people are struggling to get their own little heaven. Tara rose through the ranks to marry a top-shot businessman Adil (Jim Sarbh). She changed herself completely but is struggling to truly become a part of the new world, where her problems are compounded not only by her past shady behavior but also by her husband’s extra-marital affair with her best friend Faiza (Kalki Koechlin). On the other hand, there is Karan who is gay and he is unable to form a long-term relationship with any man. He is still not able to overcome the scars of his childhood where his actions led to the departure of someone who could have been his chosen one from heaven. In addition, the law of the land does not let him be his own self. The show must be commended for showing a gay lead character whose story is significant to the narrative. It is not often that we see a story like this, and too, one that is presented with a lot of affection and realism.

Each episode in the series is based on a theme and uses it to take forward the story of the principal characters. The weddings not just provide a backdrop but also bring nuance to the understanding of the characters. For instance, we see that there is a bit of Tara in different brides. By the end of the series, all the threads are tied and the characters are set for the next stage in their lives.

Episode 1—All That Glitters Is Gold

Angad Roshan (Pavail Gulati), the son of a business tycoon, is marrying Aliya Saxena (Aditi Joshi), a journalist. Tara and Karan will get to plan the wedding if they investigate the background of Aliya. Angad’s parents are a bit wary as they find out that Aliya had an abortion a few years ago. Aliya is livid and almost breaks the wedding when she gets to know that she was investigated. However, Tara manages to convince her by asking her to think about the enormous wealth of her fiancé that she will be letting go. If she gets married, she will get to have a stake in ‘Five Fucking Thousand Crores.’ By the end of the series, we realize that Tara followed the same philosophy in her life where she had married for money. At one point, Angad’s mother Veenu (Neena Gupta) calls Aliya a golddigger who pretended to come for work and then laid a trap, which is exactly what Tara had done in her life. All That Glitters Is Gold is about outsiders, such as Aliya and Tara, trying to become insiders in the cocooned world of the wealthy elite. We see this aspect in the case of Jazz (Shivani Raghuvanshi) as well where her friend mocks her efforts to become a part of South Delhi club. She wishes to be called Jazz instead of Jaspreet as she is trying to forget where she comes from but is ridiculed for the same because “your inner spirit takes a backseat to your address.”

Episode 2—Star Struck Lovers
Harsimran Mann (Dalai Upadhyay), the daughter of a rich businessman, is marrying Joginder Sethi (Manjot Singh), whose father owns the Sethi Hotel Group. Bollywood superstar Sarfaraz Khan (Pulkit Samrat) is called for one of the functions after which Harsimran ends up sleeping with him. She is so star struck that she puts her wedding and the business deal between the two families in jeopardy. She tries to bury her secret in umpteen mimosas but ultimately her guilt makes it puke out till Karan convinces her to let it go. There is Jazz who gets an opportunity to stay at a five-star hotel for the first time in her life. She, too, is star struck by the space and the freedom that she gets for some moments in the hotel, away from the depressing claustrophobia of her house. Jazz’s clamor for space has shades of Murad’s (Ranveer Singh) desire for space from Zoya Akhtar’s recent Gully Boy.

Episode 3—It’s Never Too Late

It’s Never Too Late is about an old couple finding love again at a later stage in life. There is Gayatri Mathur (Deepti Naval), an entrepreneur, who is marrying Bijoy Chatterjee (Rahul Vohra), a Bengali architect. They both are on a dating website for older people called Sweet 60. The venue for their wedding is an old haveli which is refurbished for the ceremony, like a metaphor for their own life where they rediscover love again (just as we saw in Imtiaz Ali’s Love Aaj Kal where Meera’s art restoration project was a symbol for the redefined love for the current generation). Gayatri is also the founder of New Era Schools, again a name that is quite befitting to her story. A new and a progressive era for her life.

The motif of this segment was mothers and their emotional blackmail. Gayatri’s children are not amenable to the idea of their mother remarrying. It is only after Karan emotionally manipulates Gayatri’s daughter Siya (Charu Shankar) to make her realize the sacrifices Gayatri did for them, she agrees to come to the wedding. Siya is shown to be a mother herself and her own daughter provides a mirror to Siya to look at her mother from a different perspective. Then, in a series of flashback, we see that there is Tara’s mother Vimla (Manini M. Mishra) who keeps pestering her two daughters to think well about their future and escape their poverty by any means. This is why she is not happy with the decision of Tara’s sister Karuna (Pravishi Das) to marry Ranjan (Karan Mally) who is not as financially well-off. Later, on the birthday of Karuna’s daughter Mira (Aakriti Sharma), Tara brings some expensive gifts which Mira wants to share with her mother but Tara asks her to keep it only for herself. Then, there is Karan’s mother Devyani (Preeti Mamgain) who blackmailed his father to give money to Karan invoking maternal love. All the mothers here are shown to be manipulative.

Episode 4—The Price of Love

In The Price of Love, Priyanka Mishra (Shweta Tripathi) is getting married to Vishal Shrivastava (Ravish Desai), an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer. They are paying for the wedding on their own. However, Vishal’s parents demand dowry moments before the wedding arrives at the venue. When Priyanka gets to know about it, she walks out of the wedding as she is not going to pay anyone to marry her.

In a similar vein, the other characters also deal with the price of love. Jazz fraudulently uses her company’s credit card to buy an expensive dress for herself. She planned to try it for a few days and then return it; however, she is fired from the job after the management gets to know about it. Shibani (Natasha Singh) has to pay two lakh rupees for her daughter’s school trip to Paris even though she is struggling to make ends meet and as a single mother, she wants to fulfill all her daughter’s wishes. Karan is caught by the police while kissing another man consensually in his car. He also has to pay a bribe to the police to let him go. At the hospital, Tara has to donate blood to Faiza after her accident even though she knows about her affair with her husband. Whether it is love for self or love for someone else, there is a price of love that each of them has to be pay.

Episode 5—A Marriage of Convenience

There is Jeet Gill (Rajnish Jaiswal), a wealthy Non-Resident Indian who organizes a competition among women to choose a wife for himself. Sukhmani Sadana (Yaaneea Bharadwaj) easily wins the contest and gets married to Jeet ignoring the warnings from his ex-wife. As it turns out, Jeet is impotent and cannot perform sexually. However, Sukhmani had always dreamt of going to the US and fears that she will remain stuck behind if she annuls the marriage. Thus, she chooses to remain in a marriage of convenience.

The façade of another marriage of convenience is also shattered here when Renu (Ayesha Raza) finds an explicit video of Karan on the laptop of her husband Ramesh (Vinay Pathak). Ramesh is a closeted gay man but he had to marry a woman because of societal pressure. This helps us understand as to why Renu was always exercising. Perhaps, she blames her weight for the lack of excitement in her marriage. Renu is shattered to learn about her husband’s secret. She starts eating a bunch of sweets, reminiscent of the scene of Neelam Mehra (Shefali Shah) in Zoya Akhtar’s Dil Dhadakne Do. Neelam was trapped in a marriage that lost its flavor with time. Her philandering husband Kamal (Anil Kapoor) keeps mocking her eating habits. At one point, after her husband insults her, Neelam stuffs a cupcake in her mouth while standing in front of the mirror. Only after this scene, we realize that she is compensating the love that she craves from her husband with food. In Zoya Akhtar’s earlier films as well, women characters are often seen eating sweets.

In the first episode of the series, there was something different about the way Ramesh talked about Karan which had a homoerotic vibe. The second episode Star Struck Lovers gave away the clearest indication of Ramesh’s sexual orientation. There is a scene where Ramesh’s daughter Mitali Gupta (Yashaswini Dayama) meets Karan and tells him that she is reading Death In Venice (by Thomas Mann) which is about this older man who gets so obsessed by the beauty of a young boy that it destroys him. This actually foreshadows the story of Ramesh as the truth about him emerges in the later episodes.

The theme of impotent husbands continues in the segment when Tara gets to know from her doctor that there is no fertility issue with her, but the problem could lie with Adil and he should get tested. When Adil learns about it, he is taken aback as this attacks his notion of Punjabi virility. There is a bit of Sukhmani in Tara (or vice versa) as well. Earlier, Sukhmani mentions she had joined grooming classes to polish herself. It is later revealed that Tara also joined similar classes. Sukhmani and Tara also share the predicament of husbands with performance issues.

The theme of weak men is again repeated in Shibani’s dealing with her ex-husband who refuses to take care of their daughter’s expenses. All the men in this particular segment are unable to stand up (pun intended) literally and metaphorically for the women who have to bear the consequences and take the blame for their impotence. At the beginning of this episode, some men refuse to take orders from Shibani because it is an attack on their manliness to work under a woman.

As the episode ends, the voiceover talks about the lack of self-worth of characters. Perhaps, that is why the characters, especially, all the women are seen near mirrors in this episode. Renu, Tara, Sukhmani and Jazz are all seen near the mirrors as if trying to evaluate their worth. Likewise, Shibani argues for a raise and a promotion because she feels she is worth it. The trope of mirrors was also seen in Dil Dhadakne Do where Neelam and Ayesha (Priyanka Chopra) were often seen near mirrors thinking about their lives.

Episode 6—Something Old, Something New
Geetanjali Sinha (Preetika Chawla), an investment banker, is marrying Nikhil Swarup (Tanmay Dhanania), a doctor residing in London. It turns out that Geetanjali is a Manglik and the astrologer suggests her wedding to a tree as a remedy for her dosh. This premise was seen in Anshai Lal’s Phillauri as well. When Nikhil finds out about it, he is furious as he does not believe in this kind of things (something old). The richest families fall prey to perpetuating superstitious and regressive practices. Even the State is continuing to perpetuate a regressive law that was enacted two centuries ago that criminalizes homosexuality. Karan is arrested for the ‘crime’ of having consensual sex with a man in his own bedroom.

But there is also progressivism (something new) from certain quarters. Karan’s mother knew about his orientation all along. She had violently hit him when he was young and told him to never let his father know. And, when the news comes out, it is his father Gautam (Satyajit Sharma) who stands up for his son in front of the media, belying all expectations of his antagonism. In a mirror image of sorts, it is Mitali, a daughter, who stands up for her closeted father Ramesh by telling him there is nothing wrong in being gay, giving him moments of strength.

The theme of this episode was fear and courage. All the characters are trying to hide something here. Geetanjali tries to hide the truth from Nikhil about her wedding to a tree. Karan had hidden his sexual orientation but finally comes out to his parents where he says that he cannot act anymore. It is a moment that will remind of the beautiful scene in Shakun Batra’s Kapoor And Sons (Since 1921) where Rahul (Fawad Khan) comes out to his mother. Ramesh had hidden the secret about himself but he also gets a tiny bit of courage to come out to Karan. Jazz tries to hide her background from everyone. At one point, she even gets off somewhere far from her home when Kabir (Shashank Arora) drops her. But, ultimately, all of them have to come to terms to accepting their own self.

Episode 7—A Royal Affair

In A Royal Affair, Pooja (Mallika Singh), a mehendiwali, is sexually assaulted by an erstwhile royal king at his son’s wedding. The bride Devyani (Amrita Puri) manages to meet Pooja and offers her money. Pooja asks five lakh rupees for her silence. Like the previous episodes, there are again shades of Pooja in Tara (or vice-versa). In a flashback sequence, it is disclosed that a sex tape of Adil and Tara was revealed causing much controversy at their workplace. Adil’s father Kishore (Dalip Tahil) offers Tara five lakh rupees (the same amount that Pooja demands which gives the impression that the storytellers are trying to connect them) for her expenses till she finds a new job. This brings a layer to an earlier scene where Karan is angry at Pooja for taking the money while Tara is not as affected. He questions Tara that being a woman, how can she be fine with it. Tara replies because she is a woman, it is exactly why she will not judge her. But, then, we later realize Tara’s non-judgemental attitude might be due to something that happened in her own life where she had planned something else.

The motif of this segment was protecting the girls. Karan refused to file a case against his landlord because he thought about Mitali who he felt did not need to go through the ordeal. Later, Shibani comes to Tara’s place and reveals the plans of her company to tarnish Karan’s reputation and the reason of her revealing is that she does not want her daughter to grow up in a world that is mean. Karan wants to fight for and protect Pooja. Adil recommends Faiza that she should be independent and move out from living under her parents’ shadow. Tara’s mother comes and asks her to not break up with Adil. All of them are thinking about the future of the girls and standing up for them in what they feel is right.

Episode 8—Pride and Bridezilla

In Pride and Bridezilla, there are two weddings. One is the wedding of Tarana (Maanvi Gagroo), daughter of Colonel Shauqat Ali (Pawan Chopra), and the other is the wedding of Asma (Trisha Kale), the daughter of Made In Heaven’s office peon Khalil (Vijay Gupta). The overarching theme of this segment was that the people might belong to different worlds but deep down they are similar. The fathers of Tarana and Asma have taken loans for their respective daughter’s wedding. The justification given by both of them is, “Beti ki shaadi se bada aur kya farz hota hai baap ka?” What is more important to a father than his daughter’s wedding? The daughters also want something for their wedding. Tarana wants a music video for her wedding; Asma wants a big wedding cake for hers.

Later, Jauhari (Vijay Raaz) visits the office of Made In Heaven for a business review meeting where Adil tells him that he belongs to a different world altogether, therefore, his opinion on how to run a wedding business might not be valid here. Jauhari replies that ultimately both are them are businessmen and follow the same underlying principles of making money. He runs a plumbing business while Adil runs an infrastructure business. Speaking in English does not make anyone a smart businessman.

This essence of different worlds is shown in the case of Tara as well. There are two identically dressed sisters at Asma’s wedding who remind Tara of her own sister Karuna. Tara visits Karuna’s home where she sees Karuna happy and content in her own little world with her family even if she has limited means. Tara has got everything in life and yet she is struggling to be really happy. The two sisters belong to two different worlds but essentially they are craving for the same things. Karuna’s husband gets some sandwiches from the street while Tara’s husband refuses to even think about eating gol gappas from the street. Tara transitioned from one world to another world; from an outsider, she became an insider. But she still wants the little world that her sister has made. We see this aspect again when Karan’s friend Sam (Ankur Rathee) asks him to move to a different world in America where he can live a life of dignity after what happened to him in jail. However, Karan refuses to leave his world because this is his home. He will make a life of his own in this world.

Episode 9—The Great Escape
As the title suggests, the theme of The Great Escape is escaping—literally and metaphorically. There is Brajesh Yadav (Lalit Behl), a high-profile politician, who is trying to get his daughter Nutan Yadav (Rasika Dugal) married to Vishal Singh (Anjum Sharma) in a political alliance. Nutan actually loves John (Siddharth Menon) who is a Christian and as is just an ‘engineer’. Unlike her sister who committed suicide as her boyfriend was killed, Nutan plans to escape and start a life with John. She refuses to be the lifeless doll who is traded for an alliance. The story reminded me of a bit of the murder case of Nitish Katara who was killed by Bharti Yadav’s politician family.

The final episode also shows us the characters trying to escape their inner demons. Jazz goes to a confessional in a church where the priest tells her that if there is something that is troubling her, she can speak about it. Agar koi baat ho jo bhoj si ho, bol doIf you have something on your mind that is troubling you, speak about it. We do not get to know what exactly Jazz conveys to the priest but she is visibly relaxed after her confession. It was something related to her infatuation with Kabir whom she had started liking. Karan and Tara also deal with the bhoj (burden) that had been bothering them. Karan finally gets to meet his childhood lover Nawab (Vikrant Massey) where he apologizes to him for his behavior that forced Nawab to go away from school. The guilt of his past actions casts a shadow on Karan’s ability to form long-term relationships and he never really moved on. Karan and Nawab’s last lovemaking happened in a bathroom when Karan’s mother found out about them. It is only befitting then that they find closure again in the bathroom. In the bathtub scene, Nawab literally cleans Karan as if he is helping him clean the soul off his guilt. The scene is very aesthetically shot and shows the beautiful tenderness of love. Moments later, even Tara is in a bathtub where she is with the object of her desire—her jewelry. She also accepts that she cheated her husband by marrying him for money. She is wearing nothing but her jewelry as if embodying the spirit of a golddigger and embracing the guilt that had consumed her. She eventually confesses to her husband and escapes with all her jewelry. Thus, the characters try to escape the guilt that they were living with.

In this episode, the mirrors make a comeback and all the principal characters are again found near mirrors. My particular favorite mirror shot in the episode is when Karan apologizes to Nawab, it is his mirror image that is shown first.

Little Details

Across different episodes in the series, there are little details that keep popping up. For instance, I loved how Tara’s loneliness when she finds about her husband’s affair is shown through the empty corridors and the vertiginous heights in the hospital. The show connects Tara and Faiza in different ways. At one point, Tara and Faiza are eating and Adil comes and picks something from Faiza’s plate, not from Tara’s plate, giving an indication of his preference. At some other stage, Tara and Faiza are shown to wear the exact same nightgown in contiguous scenes, again underscoring that they are sharing Adil. In a sense, what Tara did to Adil’s ex-fiancée Natasha (Eisha Chopra), Faiza is doing the same to Tara. Karma comes back to her.

Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti Tropes
Given that Made In Heaven is created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, the signature tropes and motifs associated with them are visible in this series as well. I have written earlier that each and every scene in Luck By Chance had a flower motif, and this flower pattern was seen in Bombay Talkies, Talaash, and Dil Dhadake Do as well. In Made In Heaven, too, the flower is present almost everywhere, especially, in the scenes of Tara. In some episodes (such as the second one), its presence is so overt that it just cannot be missed. When we first see Jazz’s room, it has these flower wallpapers which are quite reminiscent of the room of Nikki Walia (Isha Sharwani) in Luck By Chance. The pattern continues in all the later episodes. It is perhaps a quirk or maybe it is used as some kind of a lucky charm by the duo. But it definitely gives the impression that it is intended.
                                                                             Flower Motif in Made In Heaven
Other tropes, such as women eating sweets and the use of mirrors, have already been mentioned above. Upper-class women playing cards and gossiping is another frequent trope of Zoya Akhtar’s cinema which is seen here as well. Like there was Pluto’s voice in Dil Dhadakne Do, here, there is Kabir’s voiceover at the end of every episode. We have seen the opening credits depicting the people working in the film industry in Luck By Chance and the montage of the poor people in Doori in Gully Boy; here, we again see a lovely opening sequence that comprises real-life wedding shots of ordinary people. It is again splendidly done. Every wedding in Made In Heaven ends in a portrait picture shot which is another thing that Zoya Akhtar really likes to show in her cinema.
The supporting characters in a Zoya Akhtar creation are usually seen in her films only which remind of her other films even more. Here, the investigator (Rajshree Gupta) was Ratna in Luck By Chance, Faiza’s psychologist Dr. Sood (Deepti Datt) was Shubhna, the editor of Glitter magazine in Luck By Chance, Karan’s friend (Ashish Sawhny) was Tanvir in Luck By Chance, Faiza’s husband Bilal (Sid Makkar) was Vikram’s friend in Luck By Chance, Karan’s lawyer (Suruchi Aulakh) was Roshni’s psychologist in Talaash, and many more can be cited.
The web series shows the brutality of the Indian State where homosexuality was still a crime under Section 377 that barred any voluntary carnal intercourse against the ‘order of nature’ till very recently. It is, thus, disappointing to note that a show which spends crores of rupees on its production still does not know the difference between Section 377 and Article 377. At least, five times in the show people confused Section 377 with Article 377. At first, it feels intentional, but then, the lawyer and the lead character in an important moment talk about Article 377. These are entirely different things. An article belongs to the constitution while a section belongs to an act, here, specifically to the Indian Penal Code. Section 377 is the correct term for the law that criminalizes homosexuality in India. Some may call it as nitpicking but if we want things to change and make an impact, we have to make sure we know about it first. Also, for a show that aspires to be world-class, we need to have better standards.
It should be Section 377

Also, the portrayal of the people of Delhi in Made In Heaven does not feel authentic at places. Characters keep invoking Delhi and its Punjabi culture while in reality, people don’t speak like that. The depiction of Delhi is as real as was the Chandni Chowk of Karan Johar’s Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. For instance, Dwarka is one of the better areas to stay in Delhi but the condescension they show for Jazz who stays there is hard to believe. Also, going by the shops near her house, Jazz actually stays in Malviya Nagar, and not really Dwarka. As Deepanjana Pal notes, “The city in Made in Heaven is how sections of Mumbai imagine all of Delhi to be like.” There is a stark difference that can be seen when a filmmaker who is from Delhi, such as Dibakar Banerjee and Maneesh Sharma, presents Delhi as against somebody who thinks what Delhi is like.

The voiceover at the end of every episode sounded contrived and pretentious. It does not work very well and gives the impression that the audience needs to be explained. The whole track of Faiza was the second most irritating thing on the show. In addition, a lot of these high-society mannerisms have been shown before by Zoya Akhtar in her earlier films. She repeats some of her tropes here. It gives a feeling that we have seen these type of people before. Some of the mannerisms of the rich are too indulgent. Who uses an ustara to shave on his own? Made In Heaven is an exquisitely-made series but there is limited material in it to call it extraordinary. However, it is definitely one of the better series to come out in India.

Tara and Karan

What keeps the show going is the relationship between Tara and Karan. More than weddings, I was more invested in their story. Of all the relationships, theirs is the one that remains pure till the very end. My favorite scene of theirs is the one when Karan is released from jail, he says he is filthy, and Tara replies that she does not care and then goes on to hug him. They communicate through silences like the scene where Karan made up the lie in front of Adil’s parents at the hospital about Tara’s surprise birthday party. At a later instance, they both talk about their loneliness where Karan breaks downs, and Tara consoles him. She even sold a stake in her company to save him without thinking about the consequences. They are really there for each other in the best of times and the worst of times, bringing out the true essence of friendship. Unlike Bittoo (Ranveer Singh) and Shruti (Anushka Sharma) of Maneesh Sharma’s Band Baaja Baaraat, their friendship and their business are saved from the vagaries of romantic love. The thing about the characters of the show is that almost all of them are flawed in some way but one cannot completely hate or love them. The only character who I felt comes across a little better off than the others is Shibani. She will demand what she deserves and stands up for the right thing because she does not want her daughter to grow up in a world that is mean.

Made In Heaven shows the society of Delhi as dysfunctional, at times, even dystopian. The people are struggling to make sense of their life. They often cheat not just with others, but with their own self as well. However, the show’s premise insists on being true to yourself. One can want different things in life but at the same time, one should not forget who they really are because as the clichéd saying goes, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when the character is lost, all is lost.”

1. Karan’s brother is named Arjun. Mere Karan Arjun aayenge.
2. T-shirt of Mitali has Batman and Joker.

3. Mitali is in love with Ella Fitzgerald.

[Read more of the author’s work on his blog here.]