Made in Heaven review: This sumptuous take on the big fat Indian wedding has a strong emotional core
Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti's Amazon Prime Video India Original marries narrative techniques and sociopolitical commentary with emotions and idealism.
The way Made in Heaven progresses, it often comes across as hell made in heaven. Almost all the characters of the Amazon Prime Video Original, whether principal or fleeting, go through hell. But a sensitive gaze and empathetic insights allow the hell to be unleashed in a rather heavenly way. The edges are never smooth but the characters are not judged by the writers either.
The nine-episode season 1 of the show is created by Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar, and releases immediately after the success of their coming-of-age musical Gully Boy. But here, the relatively more liberal medium lets the writers in them get the better of the directors within. Here, they do not share the combined burden of telling their story authentically and adhering to box office diktats. Since there is no censorship either, the narrative never holds itself back. The Dil Dhadakne Do co-writers explore class, gender, sexuality, and the lens through which they see these burning issues is absolutely unapologetic.
The tone of Made in Heaven is in conformity with the Amazon Prime Video Originals that Excel Entertainment has produced so far. Like both Inside Edge and Mirzapur, the pace is slick and the treatment is edgy. But thanks to its theme, and the role of four female writer-directors in shaping the screenplay, when the narrative peels off gradually, the coldness gives way to a beating heart. A strong emotional core remains conspicuously absent for most part of the show. But towards the end of the show, emotions take a stronghold, empowered by idealism that is rooted in everyday reality.
Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur) are partners in a new wedding planning firm called Made in Heaven, based in Delhi. While Karan starts this business after a failed nightclub venture, Made in Heaven is Tara's attempt to sustain her individuality after marrying her former employer and rich entrepreneur Adil Khanna (Jim Sarbh), who has also heavily invested in his wife's maiden firm. While a new marriage serves as a new episode, the two lead characters undergo parallel journeys of struggling with their personal identities. Karan is a closet homosexual, living in a rented apartment in Delhi, who is sick of concealing his sexuality (parts of Section 377 have not been repealed yet). Tara has come a long way, from a lower middle-class Dwarka girl, who groomed herself to become the personal secretary of her would-be husband. She constantly fights the battle of losing connection with her roots.
There is another parallel track involving Jaspreet Kaur (Shivani Raghuvanshi), who is a lower-middle class girl employed as a production assistant in Made in Heaven. Though she masks her humble origins by borrowed (or stolen?) dresses and the pseudonym Jazz, her ideas are a mix of convention and innovation, the right concoction needed to pull off a simple yet sweet wedding. She gravitates towards the wedding photographer Kabir Basrai (Shashank Arora), but the class divide often seems a perceived barrier.
While these tracks form the backbone of the show, the novelty resides in the episodic big fat Indian weddings. The degree may vary but every wedding is destined to go wrong here. It is as if the blunders were also made in heaven. *Possible spoilers ahead* The varied screw-ups include parental discord over a second marriage; the bride sleeping with a guest; dowry — that too from a socially concerned IAS officer's family; a self-respecting bride's objection to her future in-laws getting her background checked through a detective; a beauty competition to choose the bride for a US-based man; a groom's resistance to see her future wife get married to a tree first because she is a maanglik; the molestation of a young mehendi girl; and thwarting of an inter-religion marriage in favour of a forged political alliance. *spoiler alert ends*
The way the first three episodes end on a cliffhanger seems forced, just to lure the viewers into binge-watching. The writers seem to struggle till then to adapt to the new medium. However, once the emotional aspects kick in and the characters are established, along with their interpersonal dynamics, the story takes the much-needed plunge. The lines between the personal ordeals of the lead characters and their professional realm blur.
The strong emotional undercurrent, the riveting sub-plots and the masterful merger of technique with content are powered by measured performances in Made in Heaven.
Sobhita Dhulipala leads the pack by finally bagging a role that gives full justice to her range and gravitas. She brings a lot of herself to the role but also ensures that Tara is not lost in translation. Her eyes do most of the talking and her silences are more loquacious than the most verbose dialogues that weigh the show down. Arjun Mathur is as effective in a rather delayed role that allows his character a full arc. Years into his career, he proves he has the mettle to lead a major project. Jim is serviceable as a supportive yet confused husband. One wishes the motivation behind his character's actions or the insecurities of a disillusioned husband were not written this opaquely. There is also Kalki Koechlin, who plays Tara's best friend Fariza Naqvi. Unlike Jim's character Aadil, her actions are given detailed justification through counselling sessions with a therapist. Kalki plays her part well though one wishes her past is delved deeper into in the subsequent seasons.
Shashank is fun as the easygoing wedding photographer who rises above all the issues that plague his surroundings. His softer side is exposed in some episodes, particularly through his interactions with Jazz. Shivani, who plays Jaspreet, is a breath of fresh air. She brings infectious rawness and instant reliability to a story populated by the uber-rich. There are also delightful scene-stealing cameos and supporting roles by Vinay Pathak (Karan's mysetrious landlord), Deepti Naval (timeless grace, still intact), Shweta Tripathi (a bride resolved to marry on her terms), Amrita Puri (a morally ambiguous Indian Air Force pilot), Vikrant Massey (an old partner of Karan), Vijay Raaz (Karan and Tara's lender-turned-business partner) and Rasika Dugal (the daughter of a political family).
The political stand of the show is also very clear. In fact, the writers do a marvelous job of marrying the personal with the political. Karan is averse to the ruling party's resistance to homosexuality but is unwilling to let his client (Lalit Behl) from the opposition force marriage on his daughter for a Mahabharat-sesque political alliance. His office gets destroyed in the process, but Tara assures him, "We'll survive", while sharing a drink and joint with him in their demolished office. Her idealism is also reflected in a scene where she informs a bride on the altar of marriage about the dowry her in-laws extracted from her parents in the eleventh hour. Tara's personal conflict also comes in the way of her urge to do the right thing, when she does not judge a young rape survivor for exchanging money from the rich, 'royal' perpetrators for her silence. This idealism is what Tara and Karan share in common. Though they resort to unpopular and unethical manipulations to ensure the wedding is a 'success', they are well aware of the line they must not cross. They are willing to embrace their roles that transcend the conventional role of a wedding planner, but not at the cost of their moral capital.
While co-writer Zoya, co-writer Alankrita Shrivastava, showrunner Nitya Mehra and Prashant Nair share the directorial duties, helming a couple of episodes each, the writing ensures that the overall script is tonally consistent, leading to a riveting climactic heist sequence. The quality technique also does not take a noticeable departure despite the frequently changing editors and cinematographers. Since the show is also a comment on the glitz that dominates the crazy rich Indian circles, the production and costume design are also at par with any big fat Indian wedding. Like other Zoya and Reema screenplays, there are several one-liners that leave you in splits. The background score lends the narrative elegance and vulnerability, coupled with a haunting sense of foreboding.
But beyond all the thrill, fun and visual aesthetic, Made in Heaven ensures it does not fall short of what ultimately makes weddings a global phenomenon.
This aspect is also mirrored by the opening theme video, a montage of intimate wedding videos documented by The Wedding Filmer. Though it takes its own sweet time to echo, a solid emotional pulse does dominate the layered narrative. And so, this sumptuous cocktail of sociopolitical commentary and narrative techniques finds just the perfect clink it needed to stir up a lasting, satisfying high.
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