Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti on Success of Prime Video’s ‘Made in Heaven’ Season 2 and ‘Dahaad’: ‘The Real Killer for Women Is Certain Ideas in Society’

Filmmakers Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti (Berlin title “Gully Boy”) are basking in the success of their Prime Video series “Dahaad” and season 2 of “Made in Heaven.”

“Made in Heaven” revolves around the lives of two wedding planners in Delhi. Each episode sees traditional and modern values clashing with secrets being exposed. The first season bowed in 2019 and earned an International Emmy best actor nomination for Arjun Mathur for playing out and proud wedding planner Karan Mehra. Sobhita Dhulipala plays his business partner Tara Khanna.

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Season 2 began streaming earlier this month and in its launch weekend it entered the top 10 trending titles lists on Prime Video in over 20 countries including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia.

While season 1 tackled several hot topics, season 2 goes even further, examining a range of subjects germane to Indian society and beyond. These include LGBTQI+ relationships, skin color, marital abuse, molestation, caste, drugs, gambling and ageism.

The series is written by Kagti, Akhtar and Alankrita Shrivastava (Tokyo, Mumbai winner “Lipstick Under My Burkha”). The trio’s modus operandi was to scan the news and matrimonial ads for real-life wedding stories and incidents.

“We would try and somehow juxtapose the themes of the weddings and what’s going on in the main characters’ lives,” Kagti told Variety.

“It was a conscious choice to become a slightly bigger show than the earlier one, to up the scale a bit,” Akhtar told Variety. “We got a lot of love for season 1 and a lot of validation for certain things. So, we were happy because there was no paradigm for what ‘MIH’ was doing, especially in the LGBT space. That validation helped us expand that theme a little more.”

Season 1 was shot under the shadow of the archaic Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalized homosexuality. It was decriminalized in late 2018. This had little or no effect on how season 2 was shot. “Though some kind of technicality or the legality is changed, I think on the ground in terms of the stigma of it, and what people go through, I don’t know how much things have changed since then,” Kagti said.

Season 2 features plenty of cameos, including fashion designer Sabyasachi and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap playing themselves, respectively, and former Netflix India international original films head and current Phantom Studios CEO Srishti Behl as an overeager relative at a wedding. Each episode ends with a homily intoned by the wedding videographer character Kabir Basrai, played by Shashank Arora (“Tanaav”).

“The overarching message is that you don’t necessarily find your made in heaven, your soulmate in a romantic relationship or someone that you think it is… and that needn’t be a marriage or wedding or romantic partner. That could just be a friend. It’ll come in an unlikely form,” Akhtar said.

This year’s Berlinale Series featured India’s debut on the platform, Kagti and Akhtar’s “Dahaad” (“Roar”). Set in a small town in western India, the crime drama follows sub-inspector Anjali Bhaati (Sonakshi Sinha) who is tasked with the investigation of deaths of a series of women, which looks like the handiwork of a serial killer. Vijay Varma and Gulshan Devaiah featured in pivotal roles. The patriarchy-smashing series bowed in May to much acclaim.

“Reema came up with this idea to do a classic genre piece – cat-and-mouse thriller, serial killer, cop – but within that genre piece, have the messaging that the real killer for women is actually certain ideas in society,” Akhtar said. “It was a very interesting form, and we didn’t know how it would land, it landed really well. The mood of the show is slow burn. You don’t know today with everybody just swiping left and right, if people have the patience for that – that went really well, and the love the actors got was very heartening.”

Next up for the duo is Netflix film “The Archies,” based on the popular comic books, written by them and directed by Akhtar, which streams from Dec. 7. They are also producing Namrata Rao’s “Angry Young Men,” a documentary on famed Bollywood screenwriters Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar, who created Amitabh Bachchan’s ‘angry young man’ persona in the 1970s; and Arjun Varain Singh’s friendship saga film “Kho Gaye Hum Kahan,” starring Adarsh Gourav (“The White Tiger”), Ananya Pandey (“Dream Girl 2”) and Siddhant Chaturvedi (“Gully Boy”).

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