Styling weddings that have spectacular shells and disheveled inner trims as one marriage meanders through dark tunnels while gay love sears through societal prejudices. Made in Heaven, Amazon Prime’s new series is a procession of weighty nuances. It is a band, bajaa, baraat of well-styled, attractively mounted instances that live and choke in Delhi. Conflicts, crises, sex and lust, battles between the inner and the outer resonate across the writing, direction, styling and costuming of a series that may leave most in the audience in love with weddings and in fear of marriages.
Created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti and directed by Akhtar, Nitya Mehra, Alankrita Srivastava and Prashant Nair (each directs some of the nine episodes), the web series released on March 8 deals with the leftovers of love through the prism of privileged city lifestyles. The gloss redeems the matte of what’s essentially a sad story. It is about two wedding planners, one is Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala), a well-to-do working woman whose ambition looks laborious if stylish and the other Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur), an optimistic gay man who roller coasts through emphatic, yet temporary hook-ups and pines for a deeper love.
Made in Heaven (but suffered on earth as the institution of marriage) is a string of stories around matrimonial liaisons that intersect with rites, rituals, superstitions, family expectations, property, wealth, status, sex, betrayal, patriarchy or political manipulation. It simultaneously challenges the common Indian discourse on gay love. On the other hand, it includes an eager, “vernac” (vernacular) girl blinded by the glamour of wealthy lifestyles while being blissfully ignorant that her real 24-carat worth is inside her heart of gold.
If you have already binged on all nine episodes or are still chomping through them and like me keep your eyes (and tears) peeled for the politics of appearance, you couldn’t have missed costume designer Poornamrita Singh’s styling instincts. They are a feast. She contributes to making Made in Heaven entertaining and voguish without wardrobes wheezing with clichés like most fictional television series in India.
Enter, Poornamrita Singh
From Tara’s Shivan and Narresh floral bikini, a sleek stitched sari with black stilettos, Manish Arora-like whimsical ensembles worn by the bride in the first episode, or her ombré green Sabyasachi lehnga, to a vivid roll-out—as the series progresses—of clingy dresses, overlays, trendy handbags, a Kiran Uttam Ghosh pleated orange sari toned down with a deep maroon blouse, jazzy footwear, an ivory lehnga, a turmeric ensemble for haldi ceremonies, blingy, Beyonce-like tattered shorts with an embellished top for a music video burst, Chikankari embroidered salwar suits (on Neena Gupta), Deepti Naval’s fluid movement from handloom clothes to an emerald green bridal salwar kameez, Jim Sarbh’s suits accessories by his lies … Made in Heaven’s style bubbles and brims.
Singh has worked as costume director with Zoya Akhtar earlier too and as recently as in Gully Boy. Her voice on the phone from Mumbai is dressed in cheer. “Even while Zoya was writing Made in Heaven and the casting had to be finalised, we were in London, the sales were on and I felt I should start picking things. I had worked out looks for four episodes even before we started shooting. I was told that the lead character would be more or less of my height and body shape and I felt if nothing from what I picked in London works out, I will use the shopping myself!” she says, laughing.
Crediting the clear, sharp writing of the series that enabled her styling, the sync between the directorial instincts of Akhtar, Kagti, Mehra, Srivastava and Nair, the fact that she was given free flow, Singh says her mood boards reflected what the storytellers gave her. “I chose to go to the stores I liked and designers whose work I liked. Some of my choices got finalised while I was in stores looking for things,” says Singh. She had two months to put together all the costumes.
Since every episode has a wedding, the spectacle, both in terms of clothes and casualties continues to roll quite engrossingly.
For someone who self-confessedly doesn’t engage with or follow fashion designers and their seasonal collections but is conversant with trends, Singh’s process is minus the traps of “fashion”. For this series, she mixes subtle with loud, trendy with classy, expensive designer wear with street style, sophistication with bling, casual with stiffly formal given who she is dressing. Or, well, undressing—both literally and metaphorically. There is even a scene shot at the Raw Mango store in Colaba, Mumbai—a Sanjay Garg lehnga-set is hung out for a bride to try.
No doubt, Singh gets to work with some good (and many good looking) actors. Dhulipala shown as the most well-groomed of the lot given the role she plays is unfortunately wooden in her acting skills. But she looks the part. On the other hand, Arjun Mathur who engagingly plays Karan Mehra, a regular gay guy as hunted and haunted as many will be—comes out looking vulnerable, yet wise and full of survival steel. You don’t care about the brand of his shoes and he is thankfully not the caricaturised gay man in camp.
Then there is Adil Khanna, the rich industrialist who sleeps on a stomach full of conflicts played by Jim Sarbh. Good guy, bad guy—never mind—his suits or soft jackets don’t cut it one way or the other. Kalki Koechlin, who plays Faiza Naqvi is attractive in a vampish way—her clothes don’t make her stand out but the fickleness of her moods does.
Besides Dhulipala’s effortful, high-end wardrobe—a nice nude bag and sexy lingerie included, the other character who is a delight to watch for the styling is Jazz or Jaspreet Kaur played by Shivani Raghuvanshi. She belongs to a lower middle class family from a not-so-hip area of Delhi. From street side earrings to her frizzy hair, she mirrors the transitions she wants to make and some that she never will.
Singh’s work appeals best when she uses significant little details—like the nosepin Dhulipala loses when she moves from one class of society to another. Or how one of the grooms gets his forehead threaded while he is being preened and prepped for his wedding. My favourite scene is of Dhulipala naked but for a few kilos of precious jewellery in a bathtub. She shines.
Scenes such as these are clearly the result of what the executive producer of the series and director of three episodes Nitya Mehra calls “collaborative work.”
Nitya Mehra: Five’s Not a Crowd
“Very early on, Zoya and I had discussed the personalities of the main characters and how they will look,” says Mehra who directed three of the nine episodes. This fundamental clarity helped strengthen and evolve the main characters as other actors and plots wove in and out. “Tara Khanna is almost overly styled because she believes that her appearance and clothes will help her cut through society,” says Mehra. On the other hand, she says Faiza played by Koechlin doesn’t need to make a point in her life through clothes.
Explaining how Singh worked on the basis of the internal characterisation—Mehra says, “Arjun Mathur is subtly dressed, while Jim Sarbh could not have been excessively styled either for fear of losing the details of the grey character he plays.”
Mehra says her inputs on clothes and look went in the episodes she directed. References from the work of designer Arjun Saluja for Mathur’s classic and cool looks, insights from her visits to Rajasthan for a palace wedding that get reflected in an episode where a female pilot gets married to a royal descendant—you notice pastel, printed chiffon saris, pallu wrapped around the shoulder and the unmissable pearls. Or in another, the jewel-toned green of Deepti Naval’s bridal outfit for a wedding set in an old haveli.
Made in Heaven may not promise existential insights every time a bride and groom utter the vows but the hide and seek it plays with irony and prettiness, with dark and lite is wow.