When your wedding planner becomes your life coach, your emotional derailment is at an alarming edge – are you even fit for a lifelong commitment to another person? Not so with some of the brides and grooms who appear and quickly disappear over the course of the nine episodes of Made in Heaven. There is some fun in that imminent dysfunction, and in the premise that weddings aren’t made in heaven and could suspend you in hell’s belly. One of the inadvertent life coaches, Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala), is living that hell.
The Indian original series, which is mostly in English, started streaming on March 8. Created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, and directed by Akhtar, Nitya Mehra, Prashant Nair and Alankrita Shrivastava, Made in Heaven has extravagant North Indian weddings as backdrops for devolving relationships and incredulously easy rescue jobs from getting into disastrous marriages. In the wake of each wedding is a quick primer on what affluent India’s obsession with weddings can reveal. Typical problems include discreet dowry deals and unrelenting disdain for a 50-plus woman’s desire for a second married life.
The central track is the wounded past of the wedding planner duo Tara and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur), and how mistakes from that past affect the ambitions and relationships they have bargained for themselves. Despite a poor monetary turnover, they go out of their way to rescue their clients from coercive parents, scandals and misgivings, all the while negotiating and planning details of chintzy sangeet ceremonies and vintage wedding locales. The extent of their involvement in the lives of their clients is unbelievable. What if your wedding planner were to know everything about your life and take charge of it? It’s a frightening thought.
What motivates Karan and Tara is not only the fat pay cheques, but also the desire to salvage the lives of others because their own are on the verge of falling apart. Tara’s industrialist husband Adil (Jim Sarbh) is cheating on her, and Karan is a closeted gay man. No matter how much Karan speaks out against Section 377 of Indian Penal Code for his own sake and the LGBTQ community to which he belongs, he doesn’t find enough validation and peace in his own life. Ours is a cruel nation for a person whose sexual preferences go beyond the hetero-normative, and the writers of Made in Heaven make a compelling narrative around this struggle through Karan’s journey.
Tara’s lower middle-class beginnings and resentment claw at her as she goes along as wife and entrepreneur, armed with haute couture and an equivalent sassiness. The class struggle never leaves her mind, and although not explored fully and only in a few flashbacks, the tension adds to her character’s appeal.
The first two episodes set up the conflicts cleverly. The production design is impeccably rich and detailed, and performances, especially by Mathur and Dhulipala, engagingly and steadfastly chart a convincing trajectory of early struggles, promise, dysfunction, despair and uplifting resignation.
Just when the momentum builds, the weddings, used in each episode as devises to expose a social malaise and propel the conflicts in the lead duo’s lives, become utterly tedious. The shenanigans around the weddings, shot lavishly and authentically to make them as Instagram-real and up-to-date as possible, become pointless. Weddings, especially Punjabi weddings would make eminent viewership sense – hasn’t Bollywood proved its efficacy in the box-office long enough? But while turning the lens to the hideousness behind these multi-crore affairs, Made in Heaven ends up glorifying them.
In lead roles, Mathur, Dhulipala, Sarbh and Kalki Koechlin (who plays Faiza, a woman deeply lodged in her insecurities under the guise of a confident socialite) keep the interest in the story going and the binge-worthy factor afloat. The cast is huge, and it includes experienced, well-known actors such as Vijay Raaz in minuscule roles. Deepti Naval, Rasika Duggal, Vinay Pathak, Dalip Tahil, Neena Gupta, Amrita Puri and Shashank Arora perform their bits efficiently. Shivani Raghuvanshi as Jaspreet ‘Jazz’ Kaur, a recruit from an outer Delhi suburb whom the six-star wedding system awes and challenges in equal measure, stands out.
The writers have the on-screen allure of Indian weddings acutely in mind There is enough humour in the series too, including a hilarious chase inside a hotel between a film star with a Khan surname and a seething groom.
Under the lush production design (by Sally White and Tiya Tejpal), which must have been more difficult to execute than the weddings Karan and Tara are entrusted with, the subversiveness of the behind-the-wedding bite gets lost. The emotional ruins of Tara and Karan take Made in Heaven to a somewhat satisfactory end, but it feels an hour too long in getting there.
Corrections and clarifications: An earlier version of this article erroneously mentioned Article 377, instead of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.