Made in Heaven Season 2 seemingly attempts to expose unsavoury customs but ends up promoting stereotypes that have been weaponised against a beleaguered community despite data to the contrary
Released in August 2023 on Amazon Prime Video, the second season of the web show Made in Heaven seemed to have struck a chord. It became among the most-watched shows on the platform in India while seemingly attempting to expose unsavoury customs and prejudices related to marriages that are otherwise brushed under the carpet.
Made in Heaven appeared to have a laudable aim. But it seemed to have rather promoted iternalised prejudices through the peddling of stereotypes about Muslims, which have already contributed to widespread hate and violence against the beleaguered community. The dehumanizing portrayal of Muslims in the mass media has also furthered their increasing invisiblization. But thank god for small mercies. While there has been open incitement to violence and the promotion of unabashed hatred, Made In Heaven episode six only peddles stereotypes.
A Muslim man Wasim (Parvin Dabas) was shown in Made in Heaven marrying for the second time against the wishes of his homemaker wife, Shehnaz (Dia Mirza), and forcing her to attempt to kill herself. Shehnaz was shown mechanically participating in the preparations for Wasim’s second marriage while juxtaposing polygamy in Made in Heaven against a lesbian couple’s joyous ceremony of commitment.
Wasim meets his new bride-to-be Elmira (Kallirroi Tziafeta), an air hostess, on a London-Antwerp flight. He hires Karan (Arjun Mathur), a Hindu gay man fighting homophobia, to be his wedding planner. Shehnaz develops a bond with Karan while she continues to live with Wasim, their children, and mother-in-law Nagma (Anita Kanwal) with her life mainly defined by her responsibilities as a wife, mother, and daughter-in-law.
Sania Ahmad on X (formerly Twitter) hit the nail on the head when she wrote a post apparently addressed to director Zoya Akhtar, the co-creator of Made in Heaven:
To be fair, Zoya Akhtar cannot be singled out. Even before Muslim demonization became par for the course, their casual stereotyping was a norm even when it had nothing to do with the storyline. For instance, in Aamir Khan’s acclaimed film, 3 Idiots, a stereotypical Muslim man is randomly shown with four veiled women when the protagonist’s friends are looking for him in Shimla. Similarly, another Muslim man is shown objecting and telling Aamir Khan’s character in PK (2014) that he was alive when he asks four women whether they were in black robes (burka) mourning their husband.
Aamir Khan later apologized—of course not to Muslims—when he faced a sustained campaign for the boycott of his films. He was singled out among the predominantly Hindu cast and crew of the film over his Muslim heritage and accused of hurting Hindu religious sentiments in PK. Bollywood has responded to such situations by adapting to the changing political climate or toeing the line lock, stock, and barrel.
Zoya Akhtar’s father, celebrated Bollywood scriptwriter and lyricist, Javed Akhtar, has been among the smarter ones in adapting. He would until a decade back be a regular ‘Muslim voice’ on everything under the sun on national TV. But he has now become more vociferous in proclaiming himself an atheist and increasingly resorting to virtue signaling, underlining the state of play in Bollywood.
Bollywood was once regarded among the last bastions of secularism with Muslims continuing to make their presence felt despite institutionalized marginalization after the subcontinent’s division into India and Pakistan on religious lines in 1947.
Setting The Record Straight
With the reach and influence of her medium, Zoya Akhtar could have set the record straight in Made in Heaven on polygamy. But filmmaking is a lucrative but risky business at the end of the day and filmmakers often make what sells; wokeism notwithstanding.
Polygamy has been among many sticks used to beat Muslims while it cuts across communities. Census data shows its prevalence among all religious groups and that polygamy has to do more to do with class and education rather than faith. The 2019-20 National Family Health Survey (NFHS) data showed polygamy was most prevalent among Christians (2.1%), followed by Muslims (1.9%) and Hindus (1.3%).
In a report in The Times of India, Rema Nagarajan noted the high prevalence of polygamy among Christians could be because of northeastern states, where the practice is more common. Polygamy was more prevalent among Hindus in Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.
An analysis of NFHS data from 2005-06, 2015-16, and 2019-20 by faculty from Mumbai’s International Institute of Population Studies, which also conducts the NFHS, showed polygamy was found to be higher among poor, uneducated, rural, and older people. It indicated socioeconomic factors also played a role even as polygynous marriages decreased from 1.9% in 2005-06 to 1. 4% in 2019-20.
Nagarajan wrote, however, the higher prevalence of polygyny in parts of Tamil Nadu and the northeast with very high literacy rates showed that it is not just about that. She cited all rounds of NFHS and added polygynous marriages were higher among older women aged 35 and above. Nagarajan added this partly indicated the practice was on the decline.
Exploding The Myth
Contrary to the myth, Islam does not encourage polygamy. The Quran, which is the primary source of Islamic law, backs monogamy as the preferred model of marriage, underlining how inherently unjust polygamy is. Those drawing justification for polygamy from Sunna, or the Prophet Muhammad’s way of life, do so out of context.
The Prophet mostly lived a monogamous life even when power and authority were largely determined by the size of one’s harem in seventh-century Arabia. He was 25 when he married Khadija. The union lasted for over 25 years and Khadijah remained his only wife until her death when polygamy was a norm. The Prophet spent the prime years of his life in the companionship of a single wife and never thought of remarrying.
He remarried only when Khadijah died after a well-wisher suggested to the Prophet to either marry Aisha, who was unmarried, or Sawdah, a 50-year-old widow, to look after his daughters as he was busy with preaching. Both proposals were accepted. The Prophet could not have backed out from either as per tradition since the proposals were made on his behalf. He married both but only consummated the marriage with Sawdah.
Aisha came to the Prophet’s home years later at her father’s insistence. The Prophet married more women for the sole reason of taking care of war widows when it became a major issue facing the small state of Medina he founded.
In this limited context, men were allowed to marry the mothers of orphans if their relatives and guardians thought that they would not be able to take care of them while recognizing that it was no easy task. The Prophet took the lead in responding to the situation. He also married to honour women held as captives in military campaigns and to lead by example in liberating enslaved people.
The wars the Prophet faced for preaching egalitarianism in an inherently unequal society left hundreds widowed and orphaned. The widows and orphans had to be provided for and protected even as the Quran called monogamy the preferred model of marriage.
In his book No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, Reza Aslan argues the Prophet also married for political reasons. He writes that as the leader, it was the Prophet’s responsibility to forge links within and beyond his community through the only means at his disposal: marriage.
Aslan notes that Jewish patriarchs Abraham and Jacob; the prophets Moses and Hosea; the Israelite kings’ Saul, David, and Solomon; and nearly all of the Christian/Byzantine and Zoroastrian/ Sasanian monarchs, all Shaykhs in Arabia had either multiple wives, multiple concubines, or both. He writes the most shocking aspect of the Prophet’s marriages is not that the Prophet observed 10 years of polygamy in Yathrib, but his 25-year monogamy in Mecca, which was almost unheard of at the time.