Directors: Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Alankrita Shrivastava, Neeraj Ghaywan, Nitya Mehra
Writers: Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, Alankrita Shrivastava
Cast: Sobhita Dhulipala, Arjun Mathur, Jim Sarbh, Kalki Koechlin, Shashank Arora, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, Mona Singh, Vijay Raaz
A moving moment in Season 2 of Made In Heaven features one friend comforting the other after the death of an overbearing mother. “You will always love her, but you don’t have to like her,” he says. The parent and child were estranged by the end; the grief is tinged with the disorientation of distance. It’s a loaded line, one that pits the formality of bloodline against the humanity of bleeding. It conveys the cruel contradiction of life, where we are often defined by the validation we seek instead of the choices we make. It’s also a line that speaks to our complicated bond with a series like this: A series that’s at once easy to love and difficult to like.
While watching the new seven-episode season, it occurred to me that my attachment to Made In Heaven is purely formal. As an urban millennial shaped by the wokeness of internet discourse, I am bound to the image of progressive storytelling. The idea of critiquing society through the flashy lens of Delhi weddings is irresistible. That’s just who I am. I seek validation about my liberal ideals and biases from the cleverly packaged show. Which is to say: I love it by default. I love it because I must. But I don't think I like it anymore. I don’t like the series the same way I wouldn’t like – yet be reluctantly related to – a judgy parent who keeps schooling and talking down to me. Or a pushy activist who flaunts their intellect under the garb of educating me. They may be well-meaning and necessary, but their nature is overbearing; the lessons get tiring; the manicured compassion loses its sheen.
The series still nails the broader brief. It gets the ironies and messiness of being human. It has the two most captivating protagonists of the Indian web space in Tara (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan (an excellent Arjun Mathur), wedding planners who build the foundation of their agency with pieces of their broken personal lives. Six months after the events of Season 1, Tara is navigating a nasty divorce with Adil (Jim Sarbh), who is now officially dating her former friend Faiza (Kalki Koechlin); Tara’s guilt of marrying Adil for his money is at odds with her rage for his philandering ways. Karan’s struggle with a bigoted mother continues, sending him into a spiral of mental turmoil, shattered self-worth and substance abuse. As a result, their company – which sells dreamy snapshots of companionship and belonging – becomes a front for a philanthropy racket of sorts. Both Tara and Karan fix others to avoid fixing themselves. Their dutifully diverse clients’ lives are none of their business, yet they stay intrusive to atone for their moral diversions outside office. It’s like they choose their projects and social conflicts – the stigma of dark skin, an abusive groom, middle-aged lovers, a Bollywood wedding, a famous Dalit academic, polygamy in Islam, a lesbian commitment ceremony – to feel better about themselves.
In that sense, Made In Heaven remains a rare series that isn’t afraid to present its characters as paradoxical and unlikable. It mines the dichotomy of social impression, implying that people can be good and bad at once – a solid friend can be a problematic partner, a perfect lover can be a poor parent, a corrupt man can be an empathetic husband, a liberal artist can be a snooty hypocrite, an independent woman can be a vengeful gold digger, a womanizer can be a caring son, a life coach can be a toxic chauvinist. We lose count of how often a character who’s being unreasonable in one moment is naturally kind in the next. The nicer scenes aren’t the feel-good ones – they’re rooted in this space between image and authenticity, between vulnerability and courage. Like when a proud Dalit bride (Radhika Apte) breaks down in private, steeped in self-doubt, wondering if she “went too far” by fighting for equal footing at her own wedding. Or like when the regressive gesture of a lady chiding her daughter for not being able to cook (for a future husband) becomes an act of warmth and acceptance in context of their situation – the daughter, Meher (Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju), is a post-op trans woman. Or like when the crabby accountant, Bulbul (a scene-stealing Mona Singh), reveals herself by recognizing abuse with one glance of a bride’s medical bill. Or even like how Faiza still defends Tara – in subconscious solidarity as ‘the other woman’ – when Adil gets bitter about divorce proceedings.
The problem with this series, however, isn’t the high horse it sits on so much as the way it rides this horse into an Instagram-filtered sunset. To paraphrase the most tormented rich man in modern television: Made In Heaven 2 is too online. It says all the right things like it knows it’s saying all the right things. In every episode, there seems to be a character waiting to pounce on the slightest cultural typo, and another blatantly waiting to be rebuked. When Bulbul’s son is named in a scandal, the purpose is to show Bulbul as the only sensible parent. Yet, the slut-shaming all around is so explicit, and she is so vocal about her concern for the victim that her conflict of being the boy’s mother is lost in binary translation. When Meher meets her old friends at a bar, the idea is to enlighten the viewer on the blunder of calling a trans person by their dead name. But the ignorance of the men is so loud and direct (cue “bro”) that only the information exists. When Tara offhandedly refers to an upper-caste ceremony as the “main” one, she is immediately chastised by Meher and her assistant, Pant (whose entire role is limited to the shade he throws here). The issue isn’t that Tara is corrected or that her casual entitlement is exposed; it’s the performative manner in which Meher and Pant taunt her, like sanctimonious Twitter handles yelling at a celebrity so that others notice their exchange. The two exit the frame, and Tara stops just short of nodding her head in shame.
Even the weddings feel planted this time, unlike the first season, where the transactional relationship between the individual arcs and the job was shaped by a sense of novelty. Given that there are more threads to explore – Bulbul’s domestic crisis, Meher’s dating misadventures, Kabir and Jazz’s open relationship – lesser bandwidth is devoted to the episodic themes. Consequently, the wedding drama gets compressed into a series of wordy vignettes and monologues, which in turn makes the change-of-heart moments look lazier. The sight of nosy ‘Made In Heaven’ employees detecting something amiss – like a depressed child, a tragic affair, a bruise, an artist sacrificing his career for love – gets repetitive after a while, making them look like they’re all imitating Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par (2007). You start to wonder whether their contracts stipulate that they won’t be paid if they mind their own business. At one point, a single mother rightfully scolds Karan for meddling with her parenting, but then takes his advice anyway, and that’s all it takes to save the day. At another point, Tara’s out-of-line therapy leads a homophobic woman to magically defy her equally homophobic husband (“I’ll tell you what is not right!”) and attend her queer daughter’s ceremony. At another, a bride insists on being abandoned at the altar, continues with the wedding, and recites her vows to…herself. Only the hashtags are missing.
These broad strokes are grating, because the screenplay seems to suggest that an outsider’s gaze is all it takes to conquer prejudice and reverse decades of social conditioning. I get that resolution is a storytelling tool, or even that Made In Heaven 2 is a commercial show that thrives on selling the disease in the language of its cure. But giving every problem a conclusion – where someone or the other sees the light – not only robs the cause of its dignity, it also strips the North Indian demographic of the identity and agency that the series reserves for its misfits. It’s both narrative and cultural elitism, where weddings unite concepts rather than people, so that they can serve as checkposts in the open-ended journeys of the protagonists. The few episodes that reframe happily ever afters as tragedies – like a Ludhiana girl marrying her NRI groom despite discovering he’s impotent (in Season 1); or a gaslit model hiding her bruises to marry her ‘tortured’ boyfriend – do a better job of depicting the complexities of society.
But even they are thwarted by videographer Kabir’s arthouse voice-overs rounding off the episodes. Case in point: “This is Delhi, and here beauty cannot change the beast”. He’s a classic example of a writer whose words sound awkward and heavy on video. I had mentioned in my review of the first season that the lovely opening credits of this show – a montage of candid shots from real-world weddings – work as a neat audition tape for Kabir. But not even the meta sub-plot of Amazon commissioning Kabir for a docuseries in this season can change the fact that his epilogues are spoon-feeding hell – like the verbal equivalent of a basic background score. His track feels more annoying this time, because several episodes already spell out their subtext before he turns it into whispery poetry. So it’s reassuring to see that Kabir, like the rest, cannot escape the inevitability of a lecture. He is criticized for his privilege and romanticized view of life. By the end of seven long episodes, I was so paranoid of being politically incorrect myself that I almost refused to withdraw money from the ATM, lest the machine flashed an error message asking me to check my privilege. And, for my own voice-over, all I could think of was a Delhi gymbro’s rueful rant on Cancel Culture in Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani.