After a good helping of series marathons during the lockdown, I came to a lot of unusual conclusions about the entertainment industry and their portrayal of real life things such as sexuality, abuse and liberation. I took a look into what was trending and gulped at the countless possibilities. The number of millennial movies have taken over digital cinema platforms and has hazed the gaze in which we perceive our women in society. So to narrow down the race, I kept to two very trendy and popular series that have been making the rounds recently (for various reasons of course). Made in Heaven and Four more shots Please!. These were my marathon choices because I felt like I had stumbled on to some good material.
So let’s begin with Made in Heaven, a team of ace directors like Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava, it was a bold take on the Delhi clad boiling pot of the snobbish lot, so the audience was naturally drawn to look at the workings of the rich. I was really taken aback by the subject matter and how the series was fermented in a manner to realistically depict marital discord, class disparity and modern socio-cultural renovations in the concept of marriage. The protagonists Tara and Karan, who had started their partnership in running a wedding planning business has to navigate through turns and tiles in the juxtaposition of true love and convenience found in modern marriages.
But apart from the exceptional performances and the nuanced episodic shows of different weddings and failures, it struck me how the age of millennial success has been profusely gendered, classified and marketed to make it preferable as an escape. None of the lead characters are fulfilled distinctively and have to face their own marginalization but their team assists the bandwagon of elitism which makes it seem all to glitter.
Again, with important sub plots of Karan’s sexuality and Tara’s own tale of class mobility, we come to the realization that Made in Heaven may be for a larger audience interested in contemporary societal retellings of Indian society in the upper hinges of the hierarchy; I just wonder when we will get to think that anything that is not affluent gets to live their reality on their own terms. acceptingly. The series itself is based on the politics of marriage as an institutional visage of keeping alive the tradition of pompous show in abiding by marriageable principles.
No I am not essentially criticizing Made in Heaven; I thoroughly enjoyed it but I came out of it feeling more misunderstood on the intersections of class, gender and sexuality. The only people that were seemingly getting married were wealthy, carefree and secure. That is a very skewed representation of the dense marital culture India has caressed through generations. But maybe the purpose of this show was to only reserve the perks of societal celebration while the rest who either cannot afford to ceremonious grandeur nor want to commit to marriage are largely unheard of, which is slightly problematic.
It is a darker look at the ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ which is airy, imaginary and a way of hope for many to fulfilling many fantasies Maybe that is what sets this series apart, beyond its expensive sets of regalia and adapting to the wedding ecosystem, certain characters such as Jazz, Kabir and Shibani who are not as well off as their employers lurk in between trying to find a ground in the dizzying heights of inequality and perverse wealth. Perhaps some of us fit within them, because we are also dwindling and introspecting our own position on the spectrum of socio-economic existence.
The next series I indulged in was Four More Shots Please! Ok, at first I was also invested in its four protagonists’ life stories and just their solidarity was refreshing for me, because bromance has always been the epitome of bonding depicted. But I had my qualms from the beginning of the series. I think I find my pet peeves on this show more.
Damini Rizvi Roy, played by Sayani Gupta is the archetypal outspoken journalist who has battled legal opposition as well as political reprimand due to the release of her controversial book. As a performer, Gupta is assuring but her over the top theatrics did not convince me of her authority or entitlement. She gasps at opportunities to discover uncomfortable truths but doesn’t acknowledge the privileged background her liberal parents brought her up in to reproduce the capital she thrives on. Surely, not all successful or bold journalists identifying as feminists come from the lap of luxury but this constant victimization of her character was unappealing. Her connections, her lifestyle, her radicalism are sponsored on the progressive mindset, her well connected parents have encapsulated her in.
Successful lawyer Anjana Menon has worked hard to get to where she is, despite the many challenges single parenting brings on. But this is one character I could appreciate not only because she feels authentically depicted but the restraint in which Kirti Kulhari plays Anj is synonymous to many single mothers who have had to work twice as hard. Her trysts with sexual adventures and relationships were complicated but resilient. But sometimes her rants at being uncertain leaves a dubious reminder to us that unfortunately working women will always lead themselves into undesirable corners.
Umang is from Ludhiana and is bisexual. Queer representation and stories are profoundly important but I do think Bani J’s turn as headstrong Umang was short lived and monotonous. Her relationship with a Bollywood superstar, her backstory where she shuns her family are all too clichéd that over time her significance as a queer character loses foresight and becomes a tool in token appearances. Sometimes Umang feels like she’s a constant presence just to remind the audience of a cathartic queer member of the crowd who serves as a reminder that her sexuality is visible too- then straight to making out with strangers in the pub bathroom to make it apparent of her vivid sexual activeness. I think it is about time queer stories in Indian cinema should be led organically and not simply reduced to perform a glamourous take on oppressive roles.
Siddhi Patel is the baby of the gang. The party clown. The unloved, rich kid who is secretly not happy in her body, home or city. I think her character was transparent enough to round up why many people had a problem with the series. While her own struggles with body image, sexual awakening and family pressures are well noted and in good faith, her constant whining of how privileged people have problems was not welcome. Her escape to Istanbul, her love interest’s rushed suggestion of moving to New York, her tally of stuck up NRI male suitors and just her stint at stand up comedy has become an elitist rigmarole.
Four More Shots Please! and Made in Heaven were examples of new age material that delved into delicate issues of sexuality, sensitivity and feminism to an extent. But while Made in Heaven made the mark of cinematically bringing alive elitism that humanizes their affluent characters’ life choices and consequences, Four More Shots Please! misses the point while standardizing liberation to a one size fits all. But one thing is apparent, that powerful storylines about intricate matters can only be magnified when it is at the scale of grandeur in this food chain of class and creed.
Copious amounts of sex, alcohol binge and dysfunctional lifestyles have become symbolic to modern living but there is a danger to this; the face of Indian entertainment on digital platforms are slowly transforming to exclusionary mediums of class recollections. And they don’t include most of us because privilege becomes a deciding factor in whose feminism is seen widely and whose is suppressed in the same scene. The urbanized target audience were also polarized by these, thinking of where to start to fight on screen biases that may be greater in real life as we know it.
Sumona is a Kolkata native, currently living in Cape Town. She believes in intersectional feminism and humanism. She is an MPhil candidate in Justice and Transformation at the University of Cape Town where her research interests lie in social politics of citizenship, minority identity and human rights in the post-colonial paradigm in South Asia as well as international security and public policy. She has Bachelor of Social Science Honours degree in International Relations from UCT.