Are marriages really "made in heaven"?
Amazon Prime's new show exposes the hypocrisy of India's liberal elite.
Amazon Prime’s Made In Heaven has viewers entranced. And with good reason. It has lavish sets, designwear that is to die for, and actors who are riveting.
But what stands out, at the very outset, is its two lead characters: Tara Khanna and Karan Mehra. Both deeply flawed people who have done some pretty questionable things, yet are still not just relatable but likeable.
Set in Delhi, the series delves into the lives of the filthy rich. The medium used? Big, fat, Indian weddings where (often black) money is splashed with abandon.
Tara and Karan run a wedding planning company for the nation’s wealthiest. And there’s nothing too extravagant.
Want an entire music video complete with backup dancers and expensive crane cameras? No problem.
Fancy a Bollywood star performing at the (in)famous “youngster parties”? Sure, why not?
Nothing but tulips from Amsterdam? They will be airlifted.
But the protagonists are not from this elite crowd. Tara was raised in a lower middle class home but married rich. Extremely rich. You would have never guessed her background by looking at her.
As Faiza – the character played by Kalki Koechlin – says, “She’s [Tara] changed so much. You know, she used to be this really sweet new girl in town. Super simple. Bit rough around the edges but… soft. You know? Now she’s all styled out. Branded from head-to-toe. She looks shiny and hard. Like a diamond.”
Tara was acceptable to the socialite crowd she had married into so long as she did not really become one of them. So long as she stayed “simple”, which is code for staying rooted to the class she was born into: Lower middle class.
Played by former Miss India Sobhita Dhulipala, Tara is the epitome of a goddess. With her long legs, luscious lips, and ebony hair, how could any man resist her?
Her husband Adil Khanna, played by Jim Sarbh, cheats on his former fiancé with Tara. And then cheats on Tara with her own best friend Faiza.
If Tara is the epitome of the model rich men marry, he is the embodiment of that rich man. Good-looking, reckless, and self-indulgent with a complete disregard for the consequences of his actions – Adil is the proverbial South Delhi rich boy.
But he is liberal. He invests in his wife’s wedding planning venture. He supports her decision to work even when his parents tell her she does not need to. He comforts Tara when she cries. He never makes a scene in public.
This is where the show’s creators – Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti, and Alankrita Shrivastava (of Lisptick Under My Burqa fame) – get it right: The contradiction between the progressive mindset of the elite and the inherent patriarchy they also cling on to.
Karan Mehra, the second – but not secondary – lead is an upper middle class gay man. Earnest but deeply anguished by his need to hide his sexuality, Karan is afraid of rocking the boat by coming out as homosexual.
That is, until his landlord secretly installs a camera in his bedroom and spies on him. Karan – powerfully portrayed by Arjun Mathur – gets charged under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. He spends two nights in jail, gets brutalised and sexually assaulted by a policeman, and comes out a broken but determined man.
He is determined to fight for the rights of the LGBTQ community, even if it meant risking his life.
His main ally in this fight? Tara. She bails him out of jail. She finds him an amazing lawyer to file a petition against Section 377 of the IPC.
In turn, Karan is the one who comforts her when she finds out about her husband’s affair. Karan is the one who holds her all night as she cries.
Their relationship is deeper and more solid than any of the heteronormative ones seen in all the weddings they plan together.
For the first time, it is not an upper caste male who is the centre of a plot.
A dusky, lower middle class woman is.
A gay man is.
It is such a stark difference from the usual stock that Bollywood produces.
The big, fat Indian wedding is not shown to be picture perfect.
Behind the flowing champagne, perfectly manicured lawns, and ornate mansions, the dark underbelly of what drives immense (mostly unaccounted for) wealth is exposed.
Grooms demand dowries. Daughters are drugged and coerced into marriage to cement political alliances. NRI families hold beauty pageants to find brides. Wharton graduates marry trees to stave off the ‘bad luck’ predicted by astrologers.
By the end of the show, you realise that outsiders like Tara and Karan can never truly understand the pressures that come with being so enormously rich.
But the biggest realisation of all, is that marriages – no matter how perfect and extravagant the wedding – are not always made in heaven.