What is it about ‘Made in Heaven’ that fascinates an entire generation of young people? What draws the audience in and fuels their obsession with the show? Premiering in 2019 and recently returning with its second season after four years, ‘Made in Heaven’ doesn’t promise a perfect or idealised portrayal of human relationships. All the characters are flawed, and the central theme of the show, the marriages, is often portrayed as dysfunctional. The individuals—brides, grooms, and their immediate families—reflect the real image of Indian families, where societal and familial expectations overshadow personal feelings and aspirations.
The show portrays relationships in an imperfectly relatable way, endearing the audience to the characters. It addresses issues without glorification, skillfully depicting nuanced friendship, showcases masculine and feminine energies not commonly seen on screen, and sensitively addressing caste, class, and queerness. However, it’s important to note that the backdrop against which the narrative unfolds, and from which the characters draw their understanding of these complexities, is rooted in a privileged and elite context. At the same time, the periodic emphasis on moral values at the end of each episode, accompanied by commentary from the character Kabir Basrai (played by Shahank Arora), prompts viewers to question and consider the show from the director’s perspective. This essay aims to revisit the series to understand the nuances of queerness and friendship presented in the narrative, seeking to comprehend its significance in today’s era.
Among the various relationships portrayed in this show, one of the most intriguing is the friendship between Tara Khanna (played by Shobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (played by Arjun Mathur). Their relationship is dynamic, overt, and filled with emotional intimacy. The individual struggles they face in their lives seem to dissolve when they are together. At the final episode of season two, ‘A Taste of Heaven’ Tara says, ‘It’s just you and me,’ encapsulating the essence of the entire season. It’s as if all the chaos and restlessness find resolution when they sit together, holding each other’s hands with both love and ambiguity (01:07:15-01:08:43). Despite their fights and days of not speaking, they always find their way back to each other. In the final episode, Tara immediately rushed to support Karan when he needed. Later that night, when Karan visited their home, Tara offered him a drink, and the two of them sat down to discuss the issues they are going through. They then cuddled and slept. This transcends the societal norms of intimacy and friendship, where the fear of losing a friend often overshadows the importance of granting personal space. Tara and Karan’s friendship moves beyond such trepidation while remaining an essential cornerstone of their lives.
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, friendship necessitates reciprocity and obligation between individuals who may not otherwise be connected (Scott & Marshal, 2005). R. Adams and G. Allan further note that friendships often involve an ‘equality of exchange,’ with actions being reciprocated in similar ways (Goswami, 2023). Applying these concepts of exchange, reciprocity, and obligation to Tara and Karan’s relationship reveals that their connection goes beyond these conventional notions. Although they share a wedding planning business, an element of exchange, their friendship is more fluid, offering a space for introspection and authentic self-expression.
Similarly, the director’s remarkable portrayal of queerness through Karan in a complex manner sets the show apart. It transcends conventional coming-out narratives and delves into deeper layers and explores historical intricacies, which sets its representation apart from most of the queer narratives found on various platforms. The first season, set before the decriminalisation of Section 377, gains significance from historical entanglements like ‘Save Our Children’ and ‘Marriage of Convenience,’ interwoven to both conceal and reveal characters’ sexualities.
In the show, Karan’s landlord Ramesh Gupta (played by Vinay Pathak), his relationship with his wife, and his rationale behind reporting Karan to the police provide insights into the two aspects mentioned above. Mr. Gupta, in his 50s, is a married man who installed a camera in Karan’s room. The intent behind the camera installation comes into question in the episode ‘A Marriage of Convenience’ (00:10:18-00:15:03), when Ramesh’s wife discovers that her husband has been secretly recording and watching Karan engage in intimate activities with other men. When asked, Ramesh explains to his wife that the footage is intended as evidence for reporting Karan to the police. In the episode ‘Something New and Something Old’ (00:29:37-00:30:15), when his daughter Mitali Gupta (played by Yashaswini Dayama) inquires why he reported Karan to the police, he claims it was to protect her from him.
This scenario echoes the ‘Save Our Children’ campaign in Dade County, starting from the late 1940s. It led to persecution of communities engaging in non-traditional erotic activities. Homosexuals, alongside communists, were targeted in federal witch hunts and purges (Rubin, 1999). Similar patterns emerged in 1977 Florida, involving violence, state persecution, and legal actions against sexual minorities and the sex industry. These campaigns justified their actions by invoking child protection. The Dade County campaign depicted gay individuals as potential recruiters and corrupters of schoolchildren, using the slogan ‘Save Our Children’ (Rubin, 1999). Queer theorist Lee Edelman, in ‘No Future,’ argued that American political movements often rally around ‘saving the children.’
A parallel can be drawn in ‘Made in Heaven,’ where from the beginning Ramesh Gupta’s wife is concerned about different men visiting Karan’s room, emphasising the need to ‘save her child’ from him. Furthermore, the police hastily apprehend Karan, charging him with criminal offences. This illustrates how the 1970s notion of protecting children from individuals with different sexual orientations continues to persist. However, the director does not simply leave the audience with this notion. In episode 6, ‘Something Old and Something New’, Mitali challenges this historical concept when she says, ‘Protect me? He is gay. In fact, he is one of the few men I feel genuinely safe with in Delhi’ (00:30:15-00:30:24). This dialogue challenges the idea of protecting children from homosexual men, offering a fresh perspective from a young person and overtly justifying the episode’s title.
Here, it is gripping to observe how Mrs. Gupta oversees the situation of catching her husband with incriminating video. This brings another aspect of homosexuality in the show to light, as the name of the episode aptly suggests ‘Marriage of Convenience’ where the expectations of the society are directly proportional to the needs of the queer person, and the latter conform to heteronormative norms, suppressing their own romantic and sexual needs, resulting in compromised unions. Here in the show the marriage between Ramesh and her wife is nothing but a marriage of convenience. Even after catching him, the wife did not contend much and persisted in living with Mr. Gupta, perhaps because more than gay men it is women who are entwined by societal norms and anticipations. It is mostly women who are questioned and chastised for an inefficacious marriage and therefore, we witness Mrs. Gupta compromised with the crisis even after knowing about her husband’s sexual preference.
The first season intriguingly weaves together these coexisting aspects within one household, further complicated by the use of ‘save our children’ to conceal the ‘marriage of convenience.’ These concepts collaborate and reinforce each other while subduing homosexual desires. However, the second season showcases a significant shift in queerness’ portrayal compared to the first. This shift aligns with the decriminalisation of Section 377 and propels queerness toward themes of love and marriage. The focus intensifies on same-sex marriage issues and love during crises, highlighting the evolving social and legal landscape surrounding LGBTQ+ rights.
Made in Heaven explores various societal dimensions like caste, class, and gender. It vividly portrays male dominance in Indian culture, irrespective of class or caste. Character Faiza (played by Kalki) battles her father’s perceptions in a society where men’s influence shapes women’s lives, seen in her father’s unseen but palpable dominance. Countless women share similar concerns about this intangible control. However, the male characters like Karan and Jauhari (played by Vijay Raaz) also challenge the conventional notions of masculinity. Also throughout the series, the intricate power dynamics within the workplace unfold between male and female characters, prompting us to ponder whether the conducive work environment for women is a result of the company’s leadership by a woman and a gay man.
Here it’s important to emphasise Kabir’s workspace as well. Unlike other characters, he engages deeply with the thoughts of brides, grooms, and families, revealing their true views through probing questions. Kabir’s end-of-episode commentary gains significance. While social media finds him irritating, I believe this is intentional by the directors. His character aims to provoke thought, highlighting elite individuals who feign empathy for lower classes. His preachy behaviour mirrors pseudo-documentary filmmakers who, without people’s consent, use their footage in their groundbreaking films and pretend to understand everything. This prompts the question of its necessity in the show. Cinematically, summarising key points at each episode’s end, resembling commentary, might arise from filmmakers’ anxiety to communicate thoughts to the audience. But in this show’s context, I believe it is necessary. Made in Heaven isn’t tailored for an art-house audience; instead, it initiates discussions on queer identity, caste biases, gender violence, patriarchy, class differences, and more within mainstream pop culture. Critics calling it preachy might limit its potential. In our society, drawn to glamour and ‘masala’, Made in Heaven subtly weaves pronounced politics, providing space for reflection and reevaluation.
Edelman, L (2004). No Future: Queer Theory and the Seath Drive. Duke University Press Books.
Goswami, C (2023, August 12) Exploring the Sociology of Friendship, Doing Sociology. Exploring the Sociology of Friendship – Chandreyee Goswami – Doing Sociology
Rubin, Gayle. S. (1999) Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. In R. Parker & P. Aggleton (Eds.), Culture, Society and Sexuality (pp. 150 -187) Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Scott, J., & Marshal, G. (2005). A Dictionary of Sociology. United States: Oxford University Press.
Vanita, R (2005). Love’s Rite: Same-Sex Marriage in India and the West. Palgrave Macmillan