In this picture taken on March 4, 2020, Bollywood film director and screenwriter Zoya Akhtar gestures as she attends the Netflix Web Series Special Screening of ‘Guilty’ in Mumbai. (Photo by Sujit Jaiswal / AFP) (Photo by SUJIT JAISWAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Filmmaker Zoya Akhtar is currently in the news for the second season of her and Reema Kagti’s critically acclaimed show Made In Heaven. The show dropped last week on Prime Video after a long wait of more than four years.
Recently, an Instagram user questioned Akhtar over the portrayal of Muslim characters in her shows and films.
“Zoya can you (name) a normal Muslim character in your shows? One positive story that is not oppressed”, wrote the user.
The user’s reference was to the character of Shehnaz, played by Dia Mirza in Made In Heaven. In the Prime Video show, Shehnaz is wrecked by her husband’s decision to get married again after several years.
While polygamy is allowed in Islam, Shehnaz could not envision being separated from her kids and cut off her wrist.
When Karan Mehra, one of the central protagonists played by Arjun Mehra, saved Shehnaz, she realises her mistake and decided to challenge polygamy in court.
Reacting to the Instagram user, Zoya Akhtar pointed out all the Muslim characters in her films which she has portrayed in positive light.
“Zaffar Khan and Tanveer in Luck By Chance. Imran and Laila in ZNMD. Farah Ali in Dil Dhadakne Do. Practically everyone in Gully Boy. Sarfaraz Khan and Leila Shirazi, Kabir, Faiza, and Nawab in Made In Heaven,” Akhtar wrote in her response.
The second season of Made In Heaven has created a lot of noise over claims of plagiarism first by a journalist-author and now by fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani, who has accused the makers of using his designs represented by fictitious designers in an episode without any credit.
However, on Thursday, the team issued an official statement and denied Yashica’s claims.
“We are deeply disturbed with the misleading reports and comments in context of author Yashica Dutt claiming formal credit for her ‘contribution’ to Made in Heaven, a show set around wedding planners and remarkable brides who challenge prejudices deeply ingrained in our society. In Episode 5 – ‘The Heart Skips A Beat’, we peek into the life of Pallavi Menke a fictional character. Pallavi Menke is a Maharashtrian Ambedkarite from the Vidarbha region who studied law at Columbia University. She grew up using a caste-neutral surname and was called Pallavi Kumar. She has now reclaimed her original surname, Menke a signifier of her true identity as a member of the Dalit community. Pallavi Menke is an academic who teaches at Columbia and is likely to be tenured as a professor,” Akhtar posted on Instagram.
The team elaborated on how Radhika’s character and how it is distinct from Yashica’s life or her book Coming Out as Dalit.
“She is a recipient of an Amnesty Award. All of this earns her the respect of her prospective in-laws, who belong to a different caste. At the same time, her in-laws think her identity as a Dalit is better brushed under the carpet. The central conflict of the episode is whether Pallavi should fight to have the wedding rituals that are a signifier of her identity, or not. None of the above is drawn from Yashica Dutt’s life or her book – ‘Coming Out As Dalit’. We categorically deny any claim that Ms. Dutt’s life or work was appropriated by us,” the makers stated.
The statement also addressed the use of the phrase ‘Coming Out,’ noting that it originated in the 1950s and therefore wasn’t derived from Yashica’s book.
‘“Coming out’ is a 1950’s academic LGBTQIA term that was first used by Sumit Baudh in the Indian caste identity context in 2007. He used this in an article he wrote for Tarshi [a non-governmental organisation working on issues of sexuality]. A decade later it was used by Ms Dutt in her book. This term has since become common parlance for reclaiming caste identity,” the makers said.