Made In Heaven writers Zoya, Reema, Nitya, Alankrita on their debut series that 'unmasks' big, fat Indian weddings
Made In Heaven, the Amazon Prime Video India Original, set in Delhi, is an attempt to address the social ills that exist in Indian society, which are particularly heightened during grand, ostentatious weddings. In a chat with Firstpost, the four writer-directors — Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Nitya Mehra and Alankrita Shrivastava — talk about what made them look beneath the gold and glitter, feeling “liberated” without the barriers of censorship and box office opening weekend stress, how the female gaze works, and more.
How did the idea of Made In Heaven come up and why did you choose wedding as the theme?
Zoya: We wanted to do something in the wedding space, I have friends in the business and I find this whole behind the scenes very fascinating. I obsessively stare at these shaadis, I love hanging up with aunties and I just love watching uncles dance especially the ones who keep a glass on their head.. It’s also visually very delightful, magical, and it has got a scale that we wanted to work with. And while we were developing it, we happened to meet Amazon people and they loved the idea. Before we knew it got green-lit. I shot for Made in Heaven before I shot Gully Boy and I had a lot of fun making it. It is special for me.
Alankrita: I love, especially in Delhi and in these Punjabi weddings, how community comes together. Like it is their own son or daughter's wedding, they celebrate to that degree. It is the sheer abandon with which they all take each other’s wedding so personally, I find that fascinating. I felt the idea really lent itself to developing many many characters and we had the potential to make it a layered show with lot of fun at the same time. Weddings are fun. It was a no-brainer for me.
Reema: We keep going to that recurring theme of weddings because in India, marriage seems to be a solution for lot of things. Like many others, I have also grown up seeing that around me.
Nitya: We have used the theme of wedding because it is such a great playground to create many more characters, and the theme and social commentary you can have as the backdrop, which makes it interesting.
We have seen quite a few shaadi films; for instance, Band Baaja Baarat and Monsoon Wedding. But with an episodic series, you obviously get more time and space to explore the subject.
Nitya: We promise you that this is going to be very different from any film about weddings or wedding planning because we have taken lot of stories from real life.
Reema: Wedding becomes a very interesting point in time to explore lot of emotions that people are going through. Then, lot of things happen by the facade around it. It is capturing people at a very interesting point and that really works for episodic stories.
Alankrita: Weddings in India is lot about showmanship, no matter what economic strata you come from, you want to spend whether you can afford or not.
Zoya: Wedding is a beautiful union of two people but the theatre around it, the event around it in India is very cinematic because there is so much masala that you can play with... so much emotion, so much high drama. Lot of weddings in India are actually projection. Of course, there is beauty and sacredness, but what they do a lot of time is save money, take loans and they go out of their way just to show off.
It must be liberating because of no barriers of censorship?
Zoya: Yes, of course. We have the freedom to show things that we can’t in movies.
Alankrita: Definitely, it is liberating because you don’t have to wait to get it passed by the censor board, or worry about the cuts it will get, but at the same time, I try not to filter my thoughts considering in India there is a kind of self-censorship built into us. But just because these barriers are not there, you don’t put just anything.
Reema: Everything is there in the show because it is very valid in the story and events. We have shown what is needed for the characters, for the story. In terms of even sexuality, there is a conversation that is very valid in the realm of the show and that is why it is there, and of course, because we can.
And no box office diktats?
Nitya: Yes, we all know that. We are all sufferers (laughs out loud).
Zoya: Yes, of course. But there are two things. It is a double-edged sword. It is more relaxing because there is no opening weekend stress. There is no competition because you don’t really know. Secondly, you know if a show is liked or not and now it is purely on merit of the content. So you can’t hide behind, ‘You may not have liked it but I made so much money’. Now, it is actually about the work, so that can be a good thing and that can also be scary.
Alankrita: What is nice is that it shuts down conversation about how this film has made these many crores. It is interesting because you are watching content for content and then you can make a choice whether you like it or not. But these box office numbers, that everybody in the world is talking about, is ridiculous.
Reema: Having said that, all four of us are feeling immense pressure of this show to go down well. We do want people to like it. We want people to get it.
How is the experience of working on a limited series different than making movies?
Zoya: It is producing eight hours of content as compared to two-and-a-half. But I can’t tell you how creatively collaborative Amazon has been with us. The kind of freedom and partnership they give you is amazing.
Reema: Also, Zoya and me always tend to overwrite in feature films and later, we are always struggling to reduce and cut. It is like god has sent us this long format (laughs).
Alankrita: This platform is also ideal for good ensemble stories. We get that much time to see all those character arcs.
Nitya: There are many differences in working on films versus web series. Like television, even in series, you need to be shooting much faster. I learnt this while working on 24. We need almost double the speed. At least in Made In Heaven, the difference of being a sole director vis-a-vis collaborating with so many makers, directors, writers, that is a huge difference because film is so singular and individual.
Is movie making getting challenging with audience taste changing rapidly since they are exposed to such diverse content on various platforms?
Reema: Now, people should stop working on these comparisons because series format is a wonderful thing in itself. It is a different process of creation.
Zoya: When television boom started, it was felt that films would feel the threat but nothing of that sort happened. Now, there are different mediums, different platforms, and we have been doing all of it. We will be watching web series. We will still go to cinema. Nothing is going to change.
How was it working with such a huge ensemble cast?
Zoya: I am always shooting with an ensemble cast. I really love telling multiple stories intertwined together in a string. In fact, Gully Boy is my first one protagonist story. But our casting director had a very tough task. With every episode, we had new families, new couples. Our casting directors have really pulled it off.
Is it any different fleshing out characters from a woman’s point of view?
Zoya: Yes, there is a difference in any kind of subject you are tackling because you look at things differently. The female gaze is different and it only tweaks a little bit I think.
Nitya: There is definitely a strong female gaze. When you are creating something, you bring your own understanding of life, and that is shaped by who you are and what you have experienced.
How was the experience of coming together on this project?
Zoya: What is most important is that basic values and politics had to match. That’s what causes the big conflict when you are on the same side of the fence. We respect each other and all of us have a strong sense of logic, rationale and fun. If something is fun and juicy. We just go ahead with it. There is no ego involved.
Nitya: It was quite incredible to collaborate with like-minded people. I have done a film before and I can say that it can get quite lonely. Even as we are different in many ways as filmmakers, somewhere we sit on the same side of the fence. In terms of our politics, mostly we are on the same page. The only secret recipe is trust and we wanted to give everybody wings to fly. It is about giving everyone creative space and yet trying to be on the same page.
Alankrita: Internationally, this is how most shows are done.
What do you want people to take away from the show?
Zoya: There’s no one big takeaway because the show works on many layers, but perhaps people should realise what are the priorities in life, what needs to be celebrated, what is important..
Reema: When there is a large canvas of themes and ideas, it largely depends upon who you are, it all depends upon the individual viewer what he or she wants to take away from the show.
Updated Date: Mar 11, 2019 09:25:37 IST
Your guide to the latest election news, analysis, commentary, live updates and schedule for Lok Sabha Elections 2019 on firstpost.com/elections. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates from all 543 constituencies for the upcoming general elections.