My latest book is The One Who Swam With The Fishes.

"A mesmerizing account of the well-known story of Matsyagandha ... and her transformation from fisherman’s daughter to Satyavati, Santanu’s royal consort and the Mother/Progenitor of the Kuru clan." - Hindustan Times

"Themes of fate, morality and power overlay a subtle and essential feminism to make this lyrical book a must-read. If this is Madhavan’s first book in the Girls from the Mahabharata series, there is much to look forward to in the months to come." - Open Magazine

"A gleeful dollop of Blytonian magic ... Reddy Madhavan is also able to tackle some fairly sensitive subjects such as identity, the love of and karmic ties with parents, adoption, the first sexual encounter, loneliness, and my favourite, feminist rage." - Scroll

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10 September 2019

Thoughts on Made In Heaven: Is Indian TV finally going to show something relevant to me and you?

I watched Made In Heaven, Zoya Akhtar's dreamy luxe vision of rich Delhi and the weddings they have, over the last week and of course, I had some thoughts, which I attempted to tweet about at the time, but now it's been like a week since I watched the show, so I feel like my opinion has fully slow cooked, and is ready to be placed on the table properly.

I'm not a very Bollywood person. I've seen the iconic movies, your Dil Chahta Hai, Lagaan, Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (Segue: This last one because I used to know this guy who was O-B-S-E-S-S-ED with this movie. He lived in West Delhi somewhere, and was friends with my secondary friends, you know who I mean, not the people you hang out with all the time, but the people who will do when your first choices aren't available. Anyhow, I remember sitting in his large, very adult bedroom, like it was all matching counterpanes and thick ornate curtains and some scenery type painting on the wall. We were in college, so my room at that point was postcards on the wall and poetry/lyrics I thought were damn deep written on the back of my door. Also, my room was yellow and purple with spirals on the ceiling. I was about eighteen. Anyway, this dude would light a joint which my secondary friends would smoke--not me, I might have had spirals on the ceiling but my vices were few--and then we'd all pile on to his bed and watch K3G, which made them laugh a lot more than me.... oh.)  But I wasn't into Bollywood, I found it hard to suspend my disbelief when two people suddenly burst into song, or some dad came down very hard on his daughter and she didn't scream, "I hate you, I hate you" but actually went along with what he said? And we were supposed to be rooting for this chick? PLEASE. (Segue part two: Of course, I never found it hard to believe in all the bullshit Hollywood was feeding me, like a prostitute getting a millionaire who paid for her sexy services to be decent and kind to her and eventually falling in love or that a man and a woman can never be friends, which is SO RIDICULOUS and please do not buy into this myth, ladies and gents.)

(Potential spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk etc) (But this is not really a show I can spoiler, no murders and shit)

All this to explain that I have no Zoya Akhtar CONTEXT, you know? I'm not sure what to expect from her, but I did get very Monsoon Wedding-y vibes from Made In Heaven, which is about this STUNNINGLY BEAUTIFUL WOMAN all fragile and clavicle-y with a surprisingly emotive face who comes from this lower class family and marries rich and her business partner who is a Modern Gay Man and so of course the show is just his big old gay story--I would like for once an Indian show to treat homosexuality as casual, something that ALSO HAPPENS instead of lighting it with all these deep dark art house vibes with background music that basically tells us LOOK LOOK GAY PEOPLE HAW. That being said, it IS a relief to have homosexuality actually spelled out in a show, Karan is someone we all know, there's this one sex scene in his flat which is really sexy and lingers over all of it, the nakedness, the writhing, in a loving way before panning out to show (SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT) the landlord masturbating to this image, so you're suddenly taken from witnessing a private moment as a participant to a spectator like the landlord, it's very cleverly done.

Of course, because Karan is Gay, there's a whole 377 story, getting arrested, deciding to file a PIL and so on, which again, is GREAT but also, this is supposed to be a show about Delhi weddings, so it's all very confusing, what with the Great Gay Story as well as this adultery unhappiness betrayal social climbing plotline which is what is going on with Tara, the other partner, I guess to undercut that no marriages are happy? And literally, you guys, the show could not pound this point in more: NO MARRIAGES ARE HAPPY. One client discovers that her fiance has asked for a dowry, the other has to come to terms with the fact that her rich in laws have had her background investigated, one cheats on her fiance with the Bollywood superstar he has flown in, one is drugged by her parents so she goes through the motions without kicking up a fuss. Literally the only unequivocally happy ending is one where a widow remarries and her kids (my friend Charu Shankar plays the disapproving daughter with great flair!) disapprove but eventually come round.

A lot has been said about how the show is supposed to be about Delhi but is actually a Bombay person's perception of Delhi, which I didn't notice in the first couple of episodes but soon began to see is true. There's shots in the Delhi metro, a bride shooting a music video in "some ruins or something ya" but they got the accents wrong, all the people have rich SoBo accents, not SoDe at all. But okay, accents are a small part of it, there's just little details, for example, the rich husband of Tara and the best friend of Tara (Jim Sarbh, who apparently everyone except me knows and Kalki Koechlin who I do know because I try and keep track of the cool ladies) (I mean knows of in like a celebrity way, not personally) who are naturally banging each other because Tara is in a Strange New World of rich people and large dining tables and a farmhouse home from where she apparently commutes all over the city without once being stuck in traffic, and ALSO I don't know what weird time of year they've set this in, but everyone is wearing sleeveless/half sleeved clothes but not sweating or shivering. Maybe it's March! They're supposed to be Delhi, but they aren't, they're very Rich Bombay and I can't explain how those two are different only say that they ARE, fundamentally two very opposing kinds of beasts. One of the little details that struck me, and this is quite a small quibble but adds up nonetheless was how when Tara decides to slum it in Old Delhi, she's thinking a lot about her roots and so on, she eats gol gappas from a streetside guy which okaaaay calm down Tara you've been drinking RO paani for like five years now you're definitely going to get sick but also she holds the gol gappa shell delicately in two fingers and SIPS FROM THE LEAF CUP FIRST which is exactly the opposite way to eat it, which someone who was returning to their roots etc would def know.

But for the first time ever there's people like us on TV doing people like us things, I mean, rich people cray etc but you see their crayness through the eyes of our leads. I'd get rid of the SUPER ANNOYING photographer/narrator summing it up in the end, there's one bit where he's giving us a lecture about dowries, every episode ends in a mini-lecture, I got so annoyed I wanted to mute it, and he goes, "something something OUR WOMEN." I'm just like fuck off I'm not your women. I'd emphasise the working class girl Jazz who comes to work with all the rich folk, some of her scenes are delightful--her first time in a five star hotel and she does what all of us do: takes a long tub bath.

It's getting there though. With Amazon and Netflix commissioning a bunch more things (if any executives are reading this, I do have several novels which are PERFECT for the small screen!) I think we'll see more and more representations of people we know, scenes we're familiar with and so on. It's a small step, but it's a step.


  1. I find this particular comment interesting: "A lot has been said about how the show is supposed to be about Delhi but is actually a Bombay person's perception of Delhi, which I didn't notice in the first couple of episodes but soon began to see is true."

    I felt the same way about your novel, 'Cold Feet' that was set in Bandra, Bombay. It was very engaging, but for someone who has lived all her life in Bandra, it felt a tad wikipedia-ish...down to how a Bandra-ite would behave in Goa. (I enjoyed the novel so I do not write this as any form of criticism.) But I wonder if there is a way a writer who is foreign to a world can actually write like a native. Especially when it comes to physical, geographical spaces (not emotional, intellectual ones.) I'm a writer myself and this is a challenge I face as well- how do you not let the research 'show'?

  2. Haha, alas I thought I was being very authentic having lived in Bandra for several years myself. But maybe there was a gap? It's hard to say as a writer of a book, but as a reader, one way to not let your research show (and I tried this with my Mahabharata books) is to not dump all of it on the page. You should always hold something back, it shows on the page, and makes your writing lighter and more informed.


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