The ‘gold digger’ is a social as well as cinematic figure that the Indian audience is familiar with. Anytime a woman marries above her rank, she is tagged as a ‘gold digger’ and has to prove fidelity to her love, and not money. Only then is she accepted by her in-laws and the audience at large. Prime Original Indian TV series Made in Heaven radically subverts this trope from the very first episode. Made in Heaven introduces one of its protagonists, Tara Khana, through the familiar mould of the gold digger who marries into money, finds a comfortable lifestyle, and starts a business of her own.
Instead of hastily distancing her from this detested figure, the narration of the show gently nudges Tara to fully embody the figure of the gold digger and get comfortable in her position. In the first episode ‘All That Glitters Is Gold’, Tara and her business partner, Karan, plan a wedding for one of the most affluent families of Delhi, the Roshans. The Roshans, the parents of the groom, are suspicious of the girl’s intention because she comes from a working-class background. They employ a private detective to do a background check on the ‘bride-to-be’, Aliya, on the eve of their wedding itself.
Tara and Karan oblige to their demand and eventually, they uncover that she has had an abortion in the past. As the parents find out that she is not a virgin anymore, they now object to the wedding even more strongly. This prompts the couple to walk out of their own wedding event and disown all of Roshan’s inheritance. With their money on the line, and a huge monetary loss from last-minute cancellation looming large, Tara and Karan rush to make the couple go back to their wedding and get the party started.
This is when Tara has a candid conversation with Aliya, and convinces her to go back to the wedding. Aliya says that neither of them cares about the money, ready to distance herself from further accusations of ‘gold digging’ that had followed her till she walked out. ”It’s 5000 crores! When the romance wears out, which it will mind you, he’s going to care. And you’ll be the reason he’s broke.” Tara finally adds, “Eventually, they are going to die, babe. And all that money is yours.”
Finally, the wedding happens, under the muted whispers of wedding guests and relatives wondering if Aliya is indeed a gold digger. The episode closes with the narrator foreseeing that doubt and suspicions cast on Aliya’s character would last almost as long as their marriage would, if not even longer.
Made In Heaven, as a story, does not haste towards proving its protagonist’s intentions as honest and pure. Rather, it boldly leans into the trope of the ‘gold digger’ and forces its audience to deconstruct the meaning and the social implications behind it. Throughout nine episodes, we find Tara struggling in her marriage as her husband cheats on her. Through flashbacks and glimpses, it is revealed to us that Tara, hailing from a struggling, middle-class family in North Delhi, literally digs her way into the boundless gold and money of her husband, Adil Khanna. She lies, pretends, and leaks sex footage of herself to secure a place in Adil’s heart and ensure a marriage proposal from him.
Yet, she struggles to hold onto the marriage that she fought her life for. The class consciousness persists in her reception among her in-laws. The knowledge of her own artifice in bringing about the marriage still plagues her mind and bars her from forming any real connection with her husband.
In an attempt to find meaning in her unhappy marriage, she goes back to her roots- to the old neighbourhood of her family, to see what a life of honesty and authenticity would have given her. She visits her old grooming school which trains young girls on how to appear sophisticated, and “well-brought-up” through manners and habits. The goal of such a school is to help working-class girls land rich husbands. In a way, we can say that it is a school that trains girls on how to be ‘gold diggers’.
The show makes us confront the question that no film or show has ever asked before- ‘Why does the gold digger need to dig gold?’
For women hailing from families that lack financial security, marriage is viewed as a ‘way out’, not just for herself but also for her entire family. Tara is no exception. She watches her sister marrying for love and choosing a life of monetary struggles. Her mother detests the match. Young Tara, vows to do things differently for herself and her mother. To quote Amy, from Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Little Women, ‘marriage is very much an economic proposition’ for her and she takes it very seriously.
She understands the importance of money and goes to severe lengths to get it. Once she gets married, the title and the status of the Khannas help her family economically and elevate their social position. Even when her marital relationship starts rotting from the inside, she is not only encouraged by her mother to continue her marriage but is often pressured to stay put for the sake of her family. It is at that precise juncture of marital discord and intense mental distress, Tara realises she has figuratively dug a gilded cage of gold and locked herself in.
Society positions women as such that their marriage gets viewed as the greatest milestone of their life. If they need money and do not find a match that provides so, they are labelled as “fools” in love or incapable or unworthy of anything more than a struggling life. If they do secure a match that pays off well, they get labelled as gold diggers.
The very institution of marriage was founded upon materialistic exchange. Traditionally, women were nothing more than commodities that were to be exchanged between communities through the institution of marriage. As societies progressed and advanced, love was introduced to hide all the ugly methods of female objectification implicit in the very foundation of marriage. Love justified all and it made marriages sacred. Yet, the very real economic implications of marriage continued to be the same.
We started blaming those women who did not indulge in the illusion of love that became attached to marriage in polite societies. Women’s economic condition hinged upon their marital status for the longest time, but if they were seen visibly worrying about money in their marital prospects, they became tagged as ‘gold diggers’. Tara’s extreme action becomes symptomatic of such societal conditions. The irony persists in Tara’s character arc and makes us look at the figure of the gold digger with nuanced empathy.
The figure of the ‘gold digger’ becomes Frakenstein’s monster that the patriarchal society in itself is complicit in giving birth to. She is purged out of a society that is stricken with poverty while we look on, with disgust. The narrative does not justify Tara’s behaviour but makes us question whether it is really that unusual, unexpected, or distasteful for a woman to want to marry rich. Even in our fairy tales, little girls are made to dream of a Prince Charming who would hail from royalty and make her one as well.