When you hear of a limited series collaboration between Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, you stand up and listen. The director-writer duo is inadvertently emerging as a force majeur in the film-makers’ circuit and with good reason. While Akhtar has established a firm footing as a naturally gifted director through her cult classics Luck By Chance, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, and now Gully Boy, Kagti has penned down some of the most celebrated films in the last decade including ZNMD. Her last directorial venture Gold, after Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd. and Talaash: The Answer Lies Within, was a blockbuster hit reaffirming her calibre as a story-teller.
My first impression of the trailer for Made in Heaven was that it looked uncannily similar to the idea behind Band Baaja Baraat, where two youngsters – a girl and a boy decide to start a new business as Wedding Planners, and in the process discover themselves eventually falling in love. Although the Maneesh Sharma film gave us two talented actors in Ranveer Singh and Anushka Sharma, the story was far too romantic for the real world. Made in Heaven subverts this Bollywood Masala template unto itself by throwing out all cliched sensibilities out of the window. The narrative revolves around the lives of Karan and Tara who are the founders of a ‘wedding-experience’ startup in Delhi that specializes in providing their elite clientele an end-to-end service including (hush, hush) private background checks on the bride and the groom to make sure that their dirty secrets are tucked away under the carpet before the public ceremony. The kind of service that Mukesh Ambani would like to have for the weddings of his kids. The narrative covers a different wedding ceremony in every episode and all the strange quirks that come with each family. As Tara and Karan navigate these challenges, they also confront their personal struggles that threaten to rip away their identities from them.
While Tara has climbed a difficult ladder to reach where she is, coming from a financially weak background, Karan has had to come to terms with his homosexuality and the taboo that comes with it in a world where Section 377 is still prevalent. Through each episode, we get to learn a bit more about the back-stories of both of them right from the childhood experiences that shaped them to their survival for existence in a prejudiced society. However, what sounds like a tame idea at the outset, becomes a completely different story by way of treatment of the subject matter. Akhtar and Kagti bring an almost visceral element to the characters. Right from their work which would otherwise feel a fun occupation, is portrayed as a cut-throat domain where you have to go all in if you had to stay afloat. Sometimes they have to make morally ambiguous decisions going against their good sense just to have an edge over their rivals – Harmony.
On their personal fronts, Tara struggles with a sense of disentitlement where she feels that she doesn’t deserve the good life that she has acquired by marrying Industrialist Adil Khanna. Through their estrangement, Tara’s prejudice about herself is only reinforced. Karan struggles on two different fronts. On one hand, he is knee-deep in debt having borrowed money from his parents and another shady money-lender who keeps sending goons to his home. Besides the fear that he lives with, he also faces the ignominy that homosexuals face. His landlord constantly spies on him, and his reputation is tarnished through his run-ins with the police while he is with one of his dates. These layers are peeled off through each episode showing a completely different aspect of the characters every time. Arjun Mathur as Karan and Sobhita Dhulipala as Tara give phenomenal performances that make you fully invested in their characters right from the get-go. Their evolution from their past self to the present feels authentic and entirely believable.
What makes Made in Heaven stand out is its fleshed-out supporting cast. Thanks to the limited-series mode of expression, Akhtar and Kagti deliciously carve out the back-stories of various characters who feature throughout the story. Jim Sarbh as Adil Khanna is every bit the complex industrialist who falls prey to his own vices. Kalki Koechlin as Tara’s best friend Faiza is an insecure woman who tries to destroy her best friend’s life even though she loves her. The dynamics of Adil, Faiza, and Tara, provide some of the most intense moments in the series. Shashank Arora, as Kabir, the quintessential poet-narrator, is the videographer and editor at Made in Heaven and plays the detached all-seer to perfection. Shivani Raghuvanshi as Jazz, the dreamy-eyed simpleton walks the delicate balance between rebellion and innocence. Vinay Pathak as Karan’s spying landlord provides some poignant moments through his internal struggle and final revelation. And Vijay Raaz as the shrewd money-lender is a treat to watch even with the limited screen space that he gets.
Made in Heaven builds up its stories being fully aware of how it would affect its viewers. The writing is masterfully controlled in terms of letting out secrets and moments with the right pacing, unabashedly at that and without pretense. Like a fine wine, it gets better with each episode. And with it comes an understanding of its characters, so much so that you would even begin predicting how they would react. Don’t get me wrong though. It does not feel predictable. The narrative introduces aspects of its characters just when you thought that you knew them. Made in Heaven casts Delhi life under a stark spotlight that bares it naked, and what you see underneath is an ugly yet beautiful face of society and its people.