From Marriage Story to Made in Heaven, how mediators influenced rocky relationships on screen this year
Marriage mediators, ranging from divorce lawyers (Marriage Story) to wedding planners (Made in Heaven), had a field day on the small screen this year.
In the opening scene of Akshay Kumar-Kareena Kapoor Khan-starrer dramedy Good Newwz, an infertility specialist (Adil Hussain) inquires the couple about their chaal-chalan (sex life). When Kumar's character assures it is going smoothly, the doctor digs deeper by asking them the frequency. Clearly, the couple had different answers to the question.
In their defense, it is far from easy to let anyone enter their bedrooms by letting them ask questions as private as the frequency of sexual intercourse. Five years ago, Abhishek Varman's romantic comedy 2 States (inspired from Chetan Bhagat's 2009 bestseller of the same name) demonstrated how in India, the families of the bride and groom need to approve the relationship in order to get them married. While it is no less awkward to have your families interrogate your love lives to assess your compatibility, it is a separate beast to let strangers, with professional expertise in weddings, ask the tough questions, particularly when the couple is undergoing a personal turmoil.
This year has been replete with such third-party divine interventions across content on the web, from India to overseas.
Marriage Story - A b*tch is all you (don't) need
For all of us who have watched Noah Baumbach's heartbreaking romantic drama on Netflix, we know it is more of a 'divorce story' than a 'marriage story.' However, no one is more aware of this irony than Laura Dern, who plays celebrity divorce lawyer Nora Fanshaw, reportedly modeled on the real-life person Laura Wesser, who represented Baumbach's former wife in her divorce with the filmmaker.
Nora, who represents Scarlett Johansson's Nicole in the film, has been hailed as an accurate (sometimes exaggerated) portrayal of a high-profile divorce lawyer in Los Angeles, California. She is formal when she needs to be, and aggressive when she thinks her client needs her to be. Her persuasive streak is, in fact, an extension of Nicole's attitude towards the divorce as she wishes to be aggressive towards her husband Charlie (Adam Driver) under the guise of a competitive lawyer. Nora's warlike approach to the proceedings prompts him to find his "own assh*le" as a new legal representative.
The most telling insight into Nora's approach stems from her introductory scene, where she proposes to Nicole why she is an ideal choice to represent her in court. In the process, she forges a connection with Nicole over being a single mother. Once Nicole feels at home in Nora's office, the lawyer delivers a masterstroke by asking her a simple question (with a persuasive look on her face): "How're you doing?" As soon as Nora is successful in nudging Nicole towards an emotional breakdown, she changes her body language completely. She slips off her stilettos and plonks on the couch next to Nicole in a bid to console her.
What follows seems like a completely rehearsed, though laced with manufactured empathy, act to convince Nicole to hire Nora as her divorce lawyer. Nora does not miss out on pulling all the tricks and pushing all the right buttons. After assuring Nicole they will seek divorce "as gently as possible", she calls Charlie a "f*cking as*hole" after Nicole confesses he cheated on her.
Big Little Lies - "Why were you unfaithful?" Duh.
While divorce cases are a different ballgame, season 2 of HBO show Big Little Lies proved lawyers tend to be rather soft in family courts. In an exclusive interview to Firstpost, Poorna Jagannathan — who plays Katie Richmond, Celeste (Nicole Kidman)'s lawyer — in a case with her mother-in-law (Meryl Streep) for the custody of her children, said, "I realised the proceedings of a family court are 180 degree different from a criminal court. Family lawyers are nurturing and less aggressive, instead of being manipulative. They really want to work things out rather than escalating it. Everyone knows everyone in family courts so the clients are also much calmer. They're courteous even while fighting because they know the case is everyone's loss."
Poorna's interpretation of a family lawyer in California seems to be polar opposite from her Big Little Lies co-star Laura Dern's portrayal in Marriage Story. The show introduces another mediator, especially in the murky area of a troubled marriage, in Amanda Reisman, Celeste's therapist, who started off as a marriage therapist for Celeste and her husband Perry (Alexander Skasgard). Once Perry confesses to abuse being a sexual catalyst in their marriage, Amanda suspiciously looks at Celeste as she insists the dent in the relationship is as much hers as it is her husband's. This leads to Celeste confiding in Amanda in individual therapy sessions (which some alleged was unethical in practice). However, those therapy sessions constituted one of the best parts of season 1.
However, in season 2, Amanda's approach was met with a lot of criticism as she was seen talking to Celeste more as a friend than a professional therapist. Rather than making Celeste rise above the addiction to her abusing husband after his death, Amanda tried to push her from forgetting him. Also, in an episode, when she is offering therapy to Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and her husband Ed (Adam Scott), she borderline interrogates her, demanding why she was unfaithful in their marriage. This move only makes the situation worse, rather than possibly offering a solution to the couple going through a difficult time.
A marriage therapist, unlike a divorce lawyer, must aspire to resolve conflicts, rather than giving birth to new ones. Amanda from Big Little Lies, started on an efficient note, but soon wandered into the zone of a potential deal-breaker.
Mind the Malhotras - Smiley balls and all
A marriage therapist also made their way into another web show this year. Sahil Sangha's Amazon Prime Video India Original Mind the Malhotras had Mini Mathur's Shefali and Cyrus Sahukar's Rishabh excitedly consult Denzel Smith's Dr Gulfam Rastogi out of 'peer pressure'. Here, Rastogi was more of a silent spectator or an ear to the ramblings of the couple rather than being instrumental in creating a rift between the husband and the wife. But what Denzil caught spot on in his portrayal was the amusing expressions and stiff body language of a stereotypical therapist. He was the much-needed stoic respite from the visibly and perennially enthusiastic couple, who aimed to 'save' their marriage from an eventual (if at all?) fallout.
The most memorable image of the therapist from the show will be him telling the couple 'it will be alright' by merely pressing the smiley ball.
Made in Heaven - Just crazy rich people getting married
Another Amazon Prime Video India Original, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti's Made in Heaven revolved around wedding planners in high-society circles. At the start of this decade, Manish Sharma's watershed film Band Baaja Baaraat showed why wedding planning is a lucrative position since the "mama, fufa, chacha" of the bride and groom could no longer organise large-scale wedding events. But as Made in Heaven showed, the scope of wedding planners Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan (Arjun Mathur) was no longer restricted to venue, catering and decor. It extended to pulling every trick in the bag to make the wedding happen, from resolving bride and groom's disputes to convincing their warring families right before the wedding ceremonies.
Zoya set the tone of the show in the first episode itself when Tara is seen encouraging the bride to marry her boyfriend despite his family hiring a private detective to investigate her background. "Eventually, they're gonna die babe, and all that money is yours. Five hundred f*cking thousand crores! Don't be an idiot," she says. Clearly, that gives an insight into her motive of getting married to a billionaire.
However, her insistence to work independently after the wedding, despite discouragement from her in-laws, only proves she craves an individual identity too. In an exclusive interview with Firstpost, Reema Kagti had explained how both films and a show like Made in Heaven, written by Zoya and her, always present the nature vs nurture debate. While Tara is clear about where and what she wants to be, her morality does come into play sometimes. For example, even though Karan and her convince the bride's parents to give dowry to the groom's parents in the eleventh hour, she cannot digest it and therefore, informs the bride (Shweta Tripathi) of her would-be in laws' demands.
An event planner clearly signs up for much more when they agree to organise a wedding. But as all the examples above suggest, a marriage mediator's internal conflict, whether a wedding planner, a wedding therapist or a divorce lawyer, is as much key to a fragile relationship as the external conflict of the couple.
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