With Made in Heaven and Gully Boy, Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar are a creative force to reckon with

Karishma Upadhyay

Mar 15, 2019 16:22:33 IST

Made In Heaven debuted last week to mostly rave reviews, and is being touted as Amazon’s best Indian show till date.

The series has been created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, and written by the duo along with Lipstick Under My Burkha director Alankrita Shrivastava. The only criticism from detractors is around the milieu the show is set in: that the world of desi one-percenters is overfamiliar territory for Zoya and Reema, who have in the past, given us films like Dil Dhadakne Do and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. But that sounds like over-reaching, when you look at their last piece of content, Gully Boy. The film, set in the slums of Mumbai, broke new ground with the shedding of ‘Bollywood’ clichés, and introduced filmgoers to a new subculture with more authenticity than what we’re used to.

With Made in Heaven and Gully Boy, Reema Kagti and Zoya Akhtar are a creative force to reckon with

A still from Made in Heaven.

If the cultural subtext in Gully Boy was the primary background colour, the canvas given to Made in Heaven is no different in its composition. The details are exceedingly sharp and add to the fun of being a prurient observer, thrown into a world that’s far removed from one’s own. The other thing that stands out in these works is the careful attention given to the smaller characters. Every character is detailed, has an arc and no role is too small to cast great actors. It’s something we’ve begun to expect from the duo, and when someone like Moeen in Gully Boy becomes as much a topic of discussion as Murad, you know you’re looking at a special brand of filmmaking.

The ability to build a world with memorable characters isn’t new territory for Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, and can be traced back to their earliest films.

Honeymoon Travels (2007), Reema’s directorial debut is best remembered for its ensemble cast. The performances that stayed with us the most are those that came from Kay Kay Menon, Boman Irani, Shabana Azmi, Raima Sen and Ranvir Shorey, rather than the lead pair itself. Two years later, when Zoya directed her first film, Luck By Chance, she created a lasting portrait of Bollywood, seen through the eyes of an insider. That film too, was made memorable by its cast of interesting characters. Remember Dimple Kapadia as Neena, a former superstar described as ‘a crocodile in chiffon’ who oversaw (with much detail) the debut of her spirited 18-year-old daughter? Or, Rommy Rolly (played by Rishi Kapoor) an overly superstitious, old school Punjabi producer and his blonde-haired wife Minty (played by Juhi Chawla).

A still from Gully Boy. Source: Twitter

A still from Gully Boy. Source: Twitter

While Zoya and Reema tasted moderate success with their debut ventures, it’s when they started working together that they hit the big time.

Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (2011) and Talaash (2012), their respective sophomore directorial attempts each had the other one as a co-writer and ‘sounding board’. That both ended up being Rs 150cr + films is a testament to how well they work together. Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), Zoya’s next film was an ambitious multi-starrer that delivered powerful performances, but it was the screenplay and beautifully crafted characters that really laid the foundation. It’s the superior writing that sets these BFFs apart, and they’ve spoken on multiple occasions about it being the basis of their deep friendship.

Both started out as young Assistant Directors on movies like Lagaan (2001), Dil Chahta Hai (2001) and Lakshya (2004). They’ve both assisted on Mira Nair films, Zoya on Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1997) and Reema on Vanity Fair (2004). It’s these instilled sensibilities coupled with the incubative environment provided by Excel Entertainment that made them naturally gravitate towards each other.

Team Made in Heaven at the show launch. Twitter

Team Made in Heaven at the show launch. Twitter

But the similarities end where their roots begin. While Zoya grew up deeply entrenched in the industry with a future that was hers to grab, Reema sat in far away Assam nursing a dream. Like many an aspiring small town writer, she sold her first story to Tinkle magazine as a teenager in the 80s. It’s here, perhaps, one would expect the seeds of conflict, and in previous interviews, they have admitted to fighting a lot. ‘Creative differences’ is a term thrown around a lot by people who don’t get along, but this partnership is a shining example of those who can rise above that conflict and channel it to produce better content.

While both have spent the first fifteen years of their careers working under the Excel banner, Zoya branched out a couple of years back with her own production company called Tiger Baby Films. If their first two efforts, Gully Boy and Made In Heaven are anything to go by, we’re looking at a brand new creative powerhouse. And having seen what we’ve seen, it would be fair to say that the engines are fuelled better when the two of them are writing together.

Updated Date: Mar 15, 2019 16:42:00 IST