‘Made in Heaven’: A Milestone in Depiction of Gay Characters
The web series successfully steers away from stereotypes.
Since its release on 8 March, Made In Heaven (MIH) has been commended for many things — its dissection of weddings as a concept in modern India, layered female characters, depiction of class struggle, and most importantly, the dignified treatment of queer characters outside of the stereotypes we’re so used to seeing.
The nine-episode, binge-worthy web series follows the life of Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur) — two Delhi-based wedding planners determined to stay a step ahead of their rival ‘Harmony’ as they navigate hurdles in their personal lives. Directed by Zoya Akhtar, Nitya Mehra, Alankrita Shrivastava, and Prashant Nair, each episode of MIH tackles a different wedding-related issue. However, it’s the protagonists, Tara and Karan, who make it an engaging watch.
While Tara’s backstory is more straightforward (she’s from a middle-class family and married to a wealthy entrepreneur played by Jim Sarbh), it’s Karan’s character that truly struck a chord with yours truly. A closeted gay man drowning in debt and personal conflicts, Karan’s identity is beyond the stereotypical gay men Indian filmmakers have often thrown at us. Despite being aware of the taboo he has to live with every single day, he doesn’t perceive his sexuality as a burden. Even in the era of Section 377, Arjun’s character is as unperturbed as can be. In fact, in one of the earlier episodes, he even tells a foreigner he met at a bar that in India, people do what they want to do anyway.
In a way, Karan is Tara’s ‘gay best friend’ — a trope the Netflix film Isn’t It Romantic tried to satirize and critique but failed miserably. But instead of outwardly mocking the stereotype, MIH silently protests against it by refusing to indulge in shallow writing. Karan and Tara share an incredibly nuanced relationship. They’re both best friends and business partners, and throughout the series, we watch their relationship develop and evolve in countless ways.
After the first few episodes of the series, I was convinced that Karan’s gayness would be limited to a fringe issue. Just like Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga dove head on into the LGBTQ theme, without any subtlety; MIH, I assumed, would do the exact opposite. It would ensure that Karan’s gayness is an important underlying theme, without pushing it into spotlight. But little did I know that the writers were going to surprise me and how.
MIH does what Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga conveniently chose to avoid: it directly addressed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code. (Whether it was the decriminalization that gave them the courage to do so or not, I can’t say.)
Over the course of the series, Karan gets arrested under Section 377 after his landlord secretly films him with another man and sends the video to the police. A subplot that is painfully reminiscent of Aligarh and a direct comment on the Indian citizen’s right to privacy — a topic that continues to be debated even today. What follows is a heartbreaking chain of events that includes sexual abuse, Karan’s coming out and his acceptance of himself.
In many ways, Made In Heaven’s writing is bold and risky. Allusions to the “ruling party” and its “orange colour” are only proof of the fact that the directors wanted the show to be a social as well as political comment.
In fact, it’s only after Karan is out of jail that he begins taking a public stand against Section 377 — an act of dissent so powerful that the rival party is willing to silently endorse it by letting Karan and Tara organise a wedding in their family. In one of the scenes, the makers openly hint at the grave (and very real) possibility of mob violence.
After his experience in the local police station, Karan’s trauma becomes an integral part of his evolving identity. We’re not only witness to his present-day courage but also his journey back in time. As he revisits his childhood trauma while dealing with the circumstances at hand, Karan’s character takes centre stage in a way very few Indian queer characters have done in the past.
While Karan is the epitome of Made In Heaven’s queer depiction, he’s not the only one. Karan’s relationships with other gay men are refreshing, unabashed, multi-dimensional and most importantly, a reminder of how necessary it is to avoid lazy writing even when it comes to the most minor characters. Had Karan’s gay relationships not reflected the kind of depth that is vividly depicted in his character, the impact would not have been this great. However, being a predominantly English-language show certainly limits MIH’s accessibility. But that’s probably an argument best saved for another time.
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