Show creator talks about wanting to illustrate all aspects of India and its capital city…
THIS is not India as you probably know it.
One viewer (on Twitter) complained about the graphic nature of the central character’s physical relationships – he just happens to be gay.
The new ‘Made in Heaven’ series currently available on Amazon Prime, has gone further and deeper than probably any similar long-form series from India to date.
It’s been virtually universally commended for the way it deals with a host of issues in India.
Set around a wedding planning agency based in Delhi, its two central characters, are ‘Karan’ played by Arjun Mathur and ‘Tara’, reprised by Sobhita Dhulipala.
“On the surface, it looks really fluffy, but we wanted to go really deep and comment on society,” explained Reema Kagti, co-writer and co-creator alongside Zoya Akhtar to www.asianculturevulture.com earlier this month.
Both are Bollywood film directors and have their own production company, Tiger Baby which has produced both ‘Made in Heaven’ and the recent critical smash, ‘Gully Boy’, which premiered at the Berlinale last month.
The series is also very glossy and beautifully shot – making Delhi look more like Beverly Hills.
“It’s a beautiful city and we wanted to do that justice. Indian weddings tend to be very lavish, over the top and very cinematic in that sense.
“Most of the locations are real. We have taken a cross-section of society and have covered the entire social landscape of Delhi. For us, it had to be set in Delhi, these weddings are like a national obsession and it happens to be the wedding capital of the country,” explained Kagti.
Most people would get that – almost every Indian, rich or poor, will try to make a statement with the wedding of their children.
What Kagti and co-writer Akhtar have done is put the wedding planners and their own personal issues at the heart of the drama.
Karan is gay and his business partner Tara, while married into a wealthy family, has marital issues.
“We wanted to put the main character and their larger arcs on quite a level of irony,” pronounced Kagti, whose film directing credits include the sports film, ‘Gold’ with Bollywood megastar Akshay Kumar.
“They go around making marriages perfect for other people but one is gay and his behaviour is criminalised (the drama is set in the near past when Section 377 still stood on the Indian statue, outlawing homosexual relations) and the other has a veneer of perfection to her marriage but as you delve into the series and scratch beneath the surface, you see it as very real.”
And very messy, shall we say.
This is not the India we see through mainstream television – or film, usually.
If you haven’t seen ‘Made in Heaven’ yet or not all of it*, and can (as a subscriber to Amazon Prime), you really should, if you want to get an idea of India in many of its complexities and contradictions.
It is a drama in which the modern and the progressive confront the traditional and conservative.
“India is wrestling with it,” felt Kagti. “It is new and modern and there is tension.”
The character of Karan is a good case in point – many LGBT activists in India have praised the way the character is written: positive and realistic, but not without the critical dimensions that make him believable and not just a semi-idealised character in a drama.
“We have tried to celebrate what is good and call out, as writers, those things that we thought, needed to be called out,” Kagti answered in a question about tackling social issues.
“That was very clearly our intention to say something about Indian society.”
Mathur is best known to international audiences, especially in the UK, for his role in ITV’s drama series, ‘Indian Summers’, while Dhulipala first came to acv’s attention at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016 and the world premiere for the Anurag Kashyap crime caper, ‘Raman Raghav 2.0’, there.
“Arjun Mathur just fitted the character very well, he has a vulnerability about him.
“With both characters there was a sense of juxtaposition and the sense of insider and outsider.
“Karan doesn’t belong because of his sexual orientation and Tara is sort of symbolic of aspirational India and the pressures that are put on women in India. She has been drawn into a circle but she does not really belong,” added Kagti.
Those with a familiarity with the Indian film and television scene will recognise Jim Sarbh (‘Sanju’), Kalki Koechlin (‘Gully Boy’) and Shashank Arora (‘Manto’), who also made his debut in an official Cannes film in 2014 with ‘ Titli ’.
The directors involved are Nitya Mehra, whi is also the showrunner and has worked with both Ang Li (‘Life of Pi’) and Mira Nair (‘The Namesake’); and Alankrita Srivastava, who made the highly acclaimed, ‘Lipstick under my burkha’.
Kagti and Akhtar were inspired to write the series after attending a mutual friend’s very lavish wedding – and having friends who filmed weddings. They then wrote a lot of the drama and consulted actual wedding planners, and finessed their creation.
Akhtar’s brother Farhan, a well-established Bollywood actor-producer, has a company that already produced the hit Amazon Prime series, ‘Mirzapur’ and Excel Media & Entertainment came on board with Tiger Baby to produce the commissioned series.