Marriages change shape. The anything-goes elasticity of newlyweds sooner or later becomes more defined. For better or for worse, marriages solidify, and, in keeping with that, sometimes they crumble. Shapeshifting happens also with stories about marriages, and Made In Heaven — a series about wedding-planners returning to Amazon Prime with a much-awaited second season, four years after the first — isn’t quite the show it used to be.
Created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, Made In Heaven started as a swishy, sexy, incisive take on the hypocrisies and hi-jinks of Delhi weddings, increasingly overblown shindigs designed to out-Instagram each other. Focussing on the planners ironing out problems born out of privilege and bigotry, it was a sort of Call My Agent for the shaadi market. The new season, comprising seven episodes each more than an hour long, is a slower, sadder drama.
One achievement of season one was the show’s protagonist Tara Khanna. Played by a poised Sobhita Dhulipala, Tara — one of the two founders of the titular wedding-planning firm — was revealed as an opportunistic social climber, who entrapped a wealthy husband by any means necessary. Dhulipala shines particularly bright in silent moments, like when she longingly caresses a beloved green handbag. Tara is the kind of unapologetic antihero we rarely see, and she continues to make questionable choices while refusing to be judged by anyone, from mother to lover to business partner.
The aforementioned business partner, Karan Mehra, is played by Arjun Mathur, who doesn’t get as interesting an arc. As a gay man, the first season saw him hounded by police and legality, but in an India after Article 377, the conflicts are less obvious. Parents can be their own state, however, and an implacable mother can prove worse than any policeman. Mathur is a consistent performer, but the character only springs to life in scenes with Tara as the kind of best friend who, hearing news that has left her shaken, offers to roll a joint for her instead of finding a solution.
Solutions are in short supply. This season doesn’t provide quick fixes for troubled couples/families, and Tara’s credo of “Don’t judge, Don’t care” makes the planners appear too passive, serving essentially as bartender-like listeners. The show gives us all flavours of weddings: a same-sex commitment ceremony, a polygamous marriage, a person marrying themselves, even a marriage by lovers on the run. The ‘Made In Heaven’ team, striving for efficiency, counsels but refuses to interfere, adding to the antihero greyness.
This simplistic narrative device — of every marriage facing one easily labelled problem — would have worked infinitely better without one of season one’s lingering pitfalls: a judgemental wedding videographer who spouts catch-all homilies at the end of each episode, sounding like the kind of Gossip Girl fan who frequently misquotes Rumi. After a harrowing episode featuring a bride marrying a groom who repeatedly abuses her, the drama is undone by a voiceover like “This is Delhi, and here beauty cannot change the beast.” Sigh.
Made In Heaven has always had fine actors — Jim Sarbh is hilarious as an indignant heir, wondering if his ex-wife to be “thinks we live in California, and she deserves half of what my father built” — but the top performer is a new entrant. Mona Singh, coming aboard to play a no-nonsense businesswoman and mother, has powerful screen presence and eloquent eyes, providing a reason to keep watching even when the episodes get overlong and repetitive.
Conflicts repeat themselves, as do issues characters face: every queer character is shunned by family or friends, for instance, and while this may be a sad reflection of our prejudiced world, it makes little storytelling sense to show us first a bigoted mother, then a bigoted father. First oafish boys make insensitive jokes to their trans friend at a bar, later other oafs make similar jokes about the same character at a party. Over seven episodes, two primary characters lose a parent. With each episode weighing in at a cumbersome 70 minutes, these patterns feel exhausting.
Smart observations gleam through. A designer covers up a bride’s bruise (“the chunni will take care of it”) as if used to it. A young man passing through an office casually compliments another (“I like your look, man,” he says, to which the other replies “Thanks, man, I try)” and this feels current and casual, men appreciating each other’s style without an agenda. A young suitor compliments Tara on dressing up for his friends, to which she retorts, “I dress up. Your friends are incidental.”
The most eventful episode is directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, featuring a wonderful Radhika Apte as a celebrated Dalit activist. The episode includes straightforward explanations of affirmative action and coming out as Dalit, and it feels powerful to train the glitzy Made In Heaven aesthetic on a Buddhist Dalit wedding, one where Ambedkar’s picture is kept right next to the Buddha. As Apte’s character says, “Everything is about the politics.”
Akhtar and Kagti direct a splashy, fun episode, a movie-star wedding on the French Riviera. Other stars aren’t around — save for a hobbling filmmaker who slipped on the red carpet at Cannes — and a family member, annoyed by this, remarks that the event better not be so intimate that it bores the guests. Made In Heaven does feel like the kind of shaadi that goes on too long, making you long for getting away from the hubbub and taking off your dress shoes. Yet it makes for great photographs. The tiredness will fade, but the pictures will last. They remain ours to have and to hold.
Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid is now available on BookMyShow Stream, and the fascinating psychological horror film features Joaquin Phoenix as a man torn apart by indecision. The film takes you to a surreal world that will evoke your own recurring nightmares. A startling, singular achievement.