India’s spoilt rich are lucky to have found a lyricist and chronicler in Zoya Akhtar. Hard on the heels of their flawed but poetic excursion into the bylanes of working-class Bombay in Gully Boy, Akhtar and collaborator Reema Kagti release a Prime Video series, Made In Heaven, the story of two wedding planners, that delivers us into a geography of true fear and loathing: the Delhi farmhouse.
Tara Khanna, daughter-in-law of snobbish industrialists, and Karan Mehra, a debt-ridden barsaati dweller, deal in hard cash and cold pragmatism to keep their wedding planning agency, Made In Heaven, afloat. But they’re still learning, and the price of failure is high. Their first big-league commission is the wedding of a cycle baron’s heir, who’s fallen for the pretty journalist that came to interview him for Platform magazine. It’s not a hundred miles removed from the time Tara married the rich young man for whom she was hired as a ‘secretary’ (yes, really).
Another cookie might have crumbled, but Tara is a tough nut. Her business partner, a gay man who regularly pulls the hottest guys in his vicinity, seems at first to be the soft underbelly. But he’s no pushover either, fighting to keep a stifling family, a nosy landlord and a scary creditor off his back. When crisis befalls the cycle baron-journo wedding, both these reluctant troubleshooters have to find a way to keep the couple together, the families happy, and their bank accounts afloat.
Made In Heaven is primarily about money. It creates a beautiful tension between the desperation of those who need it, and the thoughtlessness with which it is put on display. It’s hard to say whether this is a show that believes in love, although Akhtar and Kagti are great at depicting affection that’s both sincere and complicated - as it tends to be among grown-ups. But this is not necessarily a show that believes in weddings: not even in the half-comic way that, say, Band Baaja Baarat (and YRF’s millennial follow-up, the web series Bang Baaja Baaraat) does.
A moderate number of eye-rolling clichés sneak into the early episodes, as gauche Punjabi millionairesses and artless young bridegrooms try to embody Crazy Rich Delhi for the rest of us. We didn’t realise this in Dil Dhadakne Do, Akhtar’s charming movie that also follows the lives of this set, but these aren’t self-deprecating visions of the Delhi elite. They’re only partially affectionate mockery from Bombay writers and how they see the capital’s rich. From the flashy “jungle theme” of a Dubai heiress’s wedding to the Good-Earthy vibe of a Nizamuddin East widow’s second nuptials, Made In Heaven’s aesthetics, and the moralising eye that crafted them, will ring gleefully true to everyone, even perhaps to rich Delhiites themselves.
The show’s main actors tend to play it cool, letting the pacing and editing of the narratives generate their own tension. Sobhita Dhulipala is convincing as a calm, soignée type with an unyielding centre, and Arjun Mathur works hard to erase memories of his last outing in The Accidental Prime Minister. Jim Sarbh, who plays Tara’s rich husband, and Kalki Koechlin, her (rich) best friend, have no trouble playing butter-won’t-melt-in-your-mouth types, as you’d expect. Then there’s an assortment of awful middle-aged Delhi parents, all perfectly cast to varying degrees, with just a touch of wistful glitter that follows around a Neena Gupta, or a Deepti Naval, as they float past us in their supporting roles.
Made In Heaven’s irritating young videographer follows the action around with a camera, trying to separate the “perfect” from the “pretence” and succeeds from time to time. In counterpoint to the big bucks, its supporting characters range from struggling single parents to worker bees who live in neighbourhoods adorned with “English Class” billboards and whose flats are so small that sad violins play when the camera follows them in. In spite of this, most of the cringe in Made In Heaven’s early episodes comes from its gentle, dogged pursuit of how embarrassing it is to try and fit in to the most painstaking spectacle of all, the Indian family.
Getting there: Made In Heaven is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
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