Reviews

Made In Heaven Is Made In Writer’s Hell

Its treatment of queerness is predictably dramatic, but it (refreshingly, for Hindi screenwork; languidly, considering that our lives are not limited by the imagination of Hindi screen industry) treats the pursuit of erotic pleasure without shame. Like the way Karan Mehra embraces his queerness with pride even in the face of the complex grief of his mother’s fatal prognosis. But then the screenplay does not care to unpack his pride & pleasure and depicts it with a sort of vulgarity.

*Spoilers ahead.

Season 2 of Made in Heaven is rather slow and has the velvety imagery reminiscent of American daytime soap operas of yesteryears. Everything feels exaggerated and lavish, and the characters are more of caricatures. At a time when most narratives still refuse to touch upon the lasting and traumatic legacy of Section 377 on gay men, the show has chosen to engage with it. But, not only does it refuse to extend the same consideration to trans-ness and reeks of bio-essentialism instead, but also its politics is limited to performative representation.

Its treatment of queerness is predictably dramatic, but it (refreshingly, for Hindi screenwork; languidly, considering that our lives are not limited by the imagination of Hindi screen industry) treats the pursuit of erotic pleasure without shame. Like the way Karan Mehra embraces his queerness with pride even in the face of the complex grief of his mother’s fatal prognosis. But then the screenplay does not care to unpack his pride & pleasure and depicts it with a sort of vulgarity. To me it reveals how studios still limit their exploration of working with intimacy coordinators even when the showrunners think of themselves as being brazen. So the show ends up giving people a glimpse into seemingly intimate moments, all while equating it to debauchery – whether it is having to meet a partner at a hotel because they are not accepted at home or engaging in chem-sex and threesomes.

Perhaps the show’s target demographic is the same vapid and repressed group of people that it portrays and parodies in equal measure. However, its attempts to humanise them is half-hearted as every episode seems to want to end with something that I call the ‘moral of the story’. “Why do women believe their love can change a man?” asks the narrator at the end of episode 2, after portraying nearly an hour’s worth of intimate partner violence against a trans-woman as well as a cis-bride who nearly calls off her wedding after yet another incident of physical violence. After showing us how the heir of a multi-million conglomerate manipulates and intimidates his ex-wife, step-sister, and girlfriend, he goes on to throw a man-child tantrum at his girlfriend’s boutique and blames it on the red-pill argument that it is because all the women in his life have duped him of the industrial heirloom that he feels solely entitled to. Once again, the onus is on women for allowing the misogynistic carnage to continue unchecked, because the narrative is that we don’t know better. Not the slightest blame on systemic oppression for generations that has shaped our material reality.

Jim Sarbh’s character is so unlikeable that he needs no screentime, in my humble opinion. Everything he does on screen is to basically make it obvious as to how his character is an entitled prick who embodies the most toxic and privileged brand of masculinity. His character, Adil, is practically worshipped in society, putting him above its rules.

It might seem like Meher’s character has been written as complex as well as trans, but one scene undoes all of that farce for me. In Episode 5 that features an inter-caste wedding and a Buddhist ceremony (and the politics of organizing that) on the insistence of a academically-accomplished Dalit bride, the groom’s Savarna aunt turns to Meher and asks her to whiteknight the decision to forego the Buddhist ceremony altogether. Meher’s character responds with why the bride’s politics are valid because of the awards and accolades she had earnt. As if that’s the only reason why the bride’s needs are worth meeting. This is what happens when you have a token trans character written into the show’s menagerie of characters. There is so much going on in each episode that watching the show feels like someone is shoving 20 different worlds down your throat. Everybody is dramatically miserable all the time, and there is only so much fascination one can have about the opulence on display.

It’s also worth noting that Episode 5 had to be shared with the planning of 2 weddings in one episode. This episode features a North-meets-Savarna-south wedding alongside an intercaste wedding as well as the Jauharis dealing with their … did you lose track of what I was talking about? That’s how I felt while watching this season. The story is terribly overwhelming as if the finer details were not worth dwelling upon. Everything must be unpacked immediately so that the most politically correct series can be made. It’s about time we had showrunners who are queer, Dalit, Muslim, polyamorous, trans, and all the other identities you can think of, so that we don’t have a piping hot mess in our hands (or on our OTT screens). The idea is to stop crowding the cast, and start diversifying the writer’s room to bring in diverse perspectives. We need to hear & tell stories that are not stock plots or risk becoming unbearably trite. Anybody notice how the South Indian from the same episode holds onto her caste name “Iyer” and uses it with pride as her maiden name, while “Menke” is contested over? Maybe not, because the show rushed us through it all. This was a subtle but important contrast, in my opinion.

At some point, I would have liked to see some joy on screen. As a series, there are so many unlikeable characters that it can no longer be praised simply for talking about touchy topics. We need characters that are joyful, playful, weirdly delightful, and quirky – and that’s not to say that they should introduce a manic pixie dream girl, because the show might just add another one in the name of representation. Made in Heaven is an absolutely horrendous nightmare of a show, and I hope that Amazon and Netflix will move on from the white gaze’s fixation on expensive Indian weddings – their underbelly, the matchmaking involved, the politics, or whatever else that they want to process through such shows.

The lack of trigger warnings while depicting suicide, violence, and abuse has got to be the most stark failure of this show in terms of sensitivity. The depiction of the only Muslim nikaah on the show as the consequence of a polygamist’s misogynistic pursuit goes to show how Islamophobia shows up in the most ‘politically progressive’ spaces. Soon after the nikaah, the scene almost immediately cuts to Nadeem, who is also shown as rejecting Jazz in favour of some other woman (perhaps one who shares his religion and caste). This is depicted as a shameful tradition, even as the Khanna patriarch is defended as honourable for having a child out of wedlock but counting her, albeit marginally (she only gets 10% of his company’s shares), among the beneficiaries of his will.

Karan Mehra’s character seems to think that just because he is gay, he understands what it means to be a Muslim woman in this country, and the show writes him out to be an anti-hero of sorts. He goes and tells a woman to fight, while her philandering husband himself is let go without an admonition, because you don’t spit at the hand that pays your bills, right?

Despite all the representation, this season of Made in Heaven gave us nothing. There isn’t a single shred of joy or hope in this show, and that itself is antithetical to the ethos of queerness, which is the note that the season begins on and chooses to dwell upon through its introduction of Trinetra’s character and the queer commitment ceremony. I’d urge you to fully skip it, if you don’t find yourself caught up in its frenzy already.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Tejaswi is journalist and researcher whose attention is captured by post-colonial human relationships at a time of the Internet of Things. She can't wait to become a full-time potter soon, though!

We hate spam as much as you. Enter your email address here.