Amazon Prime’s Made in Heaven dropped its full season on Friday, and I won’t be lying when I say that I was a tad bit apprehensive about watching the show.
Excited, yes. But also very apprehensive.
On paper, it seemed too good to be true. Created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti who helmed the iconic (and my eternal favourite) Gully Boy? Check. Starring a cast of good-looking actors with even better acting chops? Check. Exploring (but not mocking) the inner recesses of Delhi’s upper-class elite? Check. Lots of sex, drugs and rock & roll? Check. Just about every commendable indie actor gracing the guest cast? Double check.
Like I said, the show could be every Bollywood junkie’s wet dream (come true) – because it looked like it had everything. In fact, if this were a boy, I would have wooed him with flowers, and taken him out on a La La Land-inspired date.
But that’s the thing. Like most boys I’ve dated, this had the potential to blow up in my face (no pun intended). Why?
Over drinks many months ago, an anonymous insider told me about a WIP wedding-themed show with a meaty gay character (who had a meatier storyline). Said anonymous insider had thought it would make me happy.
I had only sighed.
In the past, Bollywood’s treatment of homosexuality has been both over-the-top and under-the-belt – queer men have been packed in bright florals and skintight trousers, only to become cookie-cutter caricatures of themselves. I honestly don’t mind the flamboyant stereotype, but contrary to (most of) Karan Johar’s films, there are more queer sub-cultures that are waiting to be voiced.
True, the 2019 cycle of representation has been iconic – from Shelly Chopra Dhar’s ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ exploring a lesbian love story, to Sridhar Rangayan’s ‘Evening Shadows’, a touching tale about a city-bred man coming out to his small-town mother – but they came with their fair share of triggers. Take the former, for instance – where the central voice of the reason in a queer narrative is still a CIS heterosexual man. A nice understanding man, but a CIS man still the same.
So you can imagine my apprehension when I jumped right into Made In Heaven (armed with a bottle of wine and Chinese takeout) with an open mind and a heavy heart. Did it make the cut?
It didn’t just make it; it nailed it.
Without giving away too many spoilers, Akhtar and Kagti’s Made In Heaven is the most honest representation of Delhi I’ve ever seen, coming a close second to Anuja Chauhan’s fascinatingly funny ‘Those Pricey Thakur Girls’. The number of things I liked about the show would make this sound like a love letter, so I’ll stop (because I never know how to deal with unrequited feelings).
And that’s one of the best compliments it can get.
Made in Heaven is a binge worthy show about rich society wife Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and her gay business partner/friend Karan Mehra (played effortlessly by (a rather straight) Arjun Mathur (I know because I checked), who solve cases plan weddings, while dealing with the trials and tribulations of their own personal lives – philandering husbands, snoopy landlords and bone-breaking loan sharks, to name a few.
And this is where Arjun Mathur steps up and completely changes the game as an actor playing a strong, sensible gay man. For a character to shine in such a giant crowd is commendable, especially since there hasn’t been such an all-encompassing cast since the Game Of Thrones series. So how does his queer representation appeal to the mehendi-wearing, Marlboro-smoking queer man in me?
Because he could be anybody. He could be your brother. Your friend. That popular kid from school. The class bully. The owner of your favourite jazz bar. For all we know, he could even be your wedding planner. And Karan Mehra is all of them. He’s your everyday gay man™.
The everyday gay man™ plays video games with the same enthusiasm he shows in attending queer soirees. He flits in and out of V-neck tees, but wears bespoke designer kurtas to engagement parties. He loves his wine, but he drinks beer too. He struggles with coming out to his parents, but he’s also struggling with debt. He has sex (full fledged #NSFW sex, but not too #NSFW because I know my mildly conservative mother binged the show without batting an eyelid) with lots of lean, toned attractive men, but feels lonely without his ex.
But hold on, the show isn’t just about aesthetically pleasing queer men having (aesthetically-pleasing) sex with each other. It’s about so much more.
Because MIH doesn’t just toy with the idea of a queer storyline; it polishes it and puts it up on the mantelpiece proudly, for the whole world to see (and give coveted looks at). And there’s no token gay man here, there’s an entire spectrum of gay men – gay men who are about to be married, gay men who are already married, gay men who are in same-sex marriages, and gay men who never want to get married. For a show that’s heavily built on the premise of wedded bliss, this seems like an inside joke that we are all privy too.
And then the show does something else.
It dwells deep into a world that’s still not rid of Section 377, and brings queer culture (and rights) front and centre; in a way very few movies (or Indian television shows) have done in the past. And before you know it, you feel the scary repercussions of the age-old draconian law as it pushes the main character into a plot that we all need, but don’t deserve.
Suddenly, he’s the central hero (or anti-hero, based on how you look at the string of broken hearts and broken men he leaves behind) – coming out to his parents, owning up to his life and taking a stand for queer rights, all in a span of three episodes. The beauty of Made In Heaven’s queer narrative lies in the fact that Karan’s character is never a bumbling sidekick or the token comic relief; he’s the main lead.
Akhtar, Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava’s writing constantly challenges the norms of love, relationships and marriage, but they seal the deal with their conversations on sexuality. The coming-out sequences are as gut wrenching as they are heartwarming, and while his small talk with his various paramours makes for great television, it’s Karan’s final conversation with his closeted landlord (played by Vinay Pathak) that steals the (wedding) cake.
Made In Heaven makes gay people what the media has never managed to do – it makes them real. And if this is the path they have chalked out for a second (and hopefully, future) season, I’ll gladly walk the aisle with them.
Conclusively, if I have a question for the makers of the show, it is this – how (and more importantly, why) do all the queer men in the show look like they ‘ve stepped out of the cover of GQ magazine?
And secondly, if and when I plan to get married, how do I get the fictional ‘Made in Heaven’ company to come plan my wedding with one of these aforementioned men?