Reema Kagti on ‘Made in Heaven’: “Weddings seemed delicious fodder for drama”

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Reema Kagti is one of a small group of exceptionally talented women behind the web-series on Amazon Prime Video that many are raving about on social media – ‘Made in Heaven’. The show breaks boundaries like never before and creates a path for itself, highlighting so many social truths with characters unbelievably well-etched.

BizAsiaLive.com caught up with Kagti to talk about this binge-worthy show taking India by storm right now.

There have been many web-series in the last couple of years coming from India. What prompted you and the team to do one surrounding weddings?
Well, the idea really came from Zoya (Akhtar). She showed me a few films made by a friend of ours. He has a company called The Wedding Filmer which are Punjabi and he does films for weddings. Around that time two of our friends got married and we were in Delhi celebrating these two weddings back-to-back. It just seemed delicious fodder for drama, you know. So we started talking about it and then we started looking at the characters. We decided on wedding planners because it’d give you the inside view to the chaos and the madness that goes with the territory. So that’s how it all developed and then Alankrita (Shrivastava) came on board and all through all of it we always knew we wanted it to mean something and this was a wonderful way of getting into different social realities.

All those in the team have worked on feature films before. How different was it to create something episodic?
Well, with feature films you have a limited amount of time. With this, it’s pretty much like fitting in three feature films in terms of the number of hours of content. It’s a space that both Zoya and I engage; we love watching shows and you end up trying to do things you like. Around that time all these platforms were just about entering India so it was a good time to try and get into this because this idea was never discussed as a feature between us. We always thought about it as a long-format idea.

Your partnership with Excel Entertainment and Zoya have created some great cinema. How did you seek for ‘Made in Heaven’ to build on that?
Well, we weren’t thinking like that really. We tend to bounce ideas off each other and we like to write together. Primarily, that’s why we write together. Because we’ve been doing it for so long, we become like a well-oiled machine. There’s some comfort to writing with Zoya because we’ve done it so many times in the past. This time we worked with Alankrita primarily. She did a lot of the writing – full credit to her. We also had a couple of other writers writing so because it’s long-format, it lent itself to multiple writers and multiple directors.

The characters in ‘Made in Heaven’ are representative of their own world and there are some strong underlying themes. But were there any particular themes you were drawn when it was at development stage and wanted as part of the show?
Definitely the theme of the insider-outsider struggle. In that sense, both Karan (played by Arjun Mathur) and Tara (played by Sobhita Dhulipala) are outsiders. Karan because of his sexual orientation and Tara because she’s trying to slot herself into a world she wants to belong in but she’s never really going to belong there. Also, because of these two characters – one who is criminalised because of his orientation and can’t even think about marriage and the other whose marriage is slowly unravelling – it’s ironic that these two are going around trying to organise weddings for other couples. This ironic juxtaposition fit into the larger scheme of things because we want to celebrate what is good but we were also trying to call out the things we see around us that we thought needed to be called out… whether that’s patriarchy or it’s dowry or the systematic stigmatisation of the HBT community and things like that.

There is a huge sense of ‘female gaze’ within ‘Made in Heaven. How did you, Zoya, Alankrita and Nitya Mehra work to make that so prevalent in the series?
We didn’t really set out to write this with the female gaze, it just so happened. That’s just how it worked out. We were trying to come with something that was edgy and trying to question things as well as delving deeper into socia realities. We were trying to provide a series that was binge-worthy. That’s what you go with. In that sense, the female gaze would have come in anyway. OTT is primarily a writer’s medium and we are all women so we didn’t have to make any effort for this to come in.

All of you who have written and directed ‘Made in Heaven’ have so many hats – especially you. How would you therefore describe your collective sensibilities when making this series?
You know, we’re all very different, each one of us. We come from different places, different educations, different family structures. But, politically, I think we’re all on the same side of the fence and that was the bind.

You’ve all played your own parts in this. How did you decide who takes what?
Initially when Amazon greenlit out show, it was very close to that that both of our features also got the green light – Gold and Gully Boy. So we knew that ‘Made in Heaven’ wasn’t something that we were going to pull off on our own. We got Alankrita on and that worked really well with the three of us working together. I think she’s a very talented young woman and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of writing with her and Zoya. Post that, Nitya came on as a show-runner. When the schedule became apparent, it was also apparent that Gold would be shot simultaneously so I couldn’t direct. It was assumed that Zoya, Nitya and Alankrita would direct but we felt we needed another director. We had met Prashant (Nair) at a film festival a couple of years earlier and he was there with his film Umrika. We watched it and liked it. We thought it would be interesting especially as there is an NRI wedding we thought the NRI gaze would help that. So that’s how Prashant came in. So all the writers then also had directors; roles and who directed what was pretty much dictated by everyone’s dates and schedules. So some things we planned and others people just covered each other. I was around for the better part of the writing but then I left for Gold. When I came back from the shoot, Made in Heaven was just going into post. By that time Zoya had moved on to Gully Boy, Alankrita was directing her new film, Prashant was directing another film. So everyone did what they had to do to cover each other. In that sense, it was a true collaboration.

The question on many lips will now be whether a season two is on its way.
We hope so. It would depend on whether you and the rest of our audiences wants it.

The actors who are in the series – Arjun Mathur, Sobhita Dhulipala, Jim Sarbh, Kalki Koechlin and all those who make up the ensemble cast – fit perfectly into their roles. How was that all worked out?
The real credit for the casting goes to the casting directors. Also the people at Amazon need a mention here too because they supported us 100%. They really went with the decisions of the directors. We went for the best person for the part as opposed to trying to hit a star or anything like that. So we had the freedom to cast the way we needed to and we also had great casting directors who helped us do it.

‘Made in Heaven’ is, as we’ve mentioned, made by mostly women. However, in an industry which is still predominantly male-oriented, have opportunities improved for women and what is holding them back now?
Well, I can definitely say we haven’t moved towards a state where you can say equal opportunities but at the same time I think things have moved a lot. Though it’s not true of everyone, a lot of technicians, writers, directors can say that there’s no pay parity. It would depends on the kinds of people doing very commercial work if a director or writer would get paid the same as their male counterpart and be doing the same work. When it comes to actors, the pay disparity is very intense. That’s also because it’s such a male and star dominated industry. I mean, things are better but there’s room for a lot more improvement.

BizAsiaLive.com thanks Reema Kagti for taking the time to talk with us.

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