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Questioning the “Great” in “The Great Indian Wedding”: Streaming Feminism Through Bang Baaja Baaraat and Made in Heaven

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Gender, Cinema, Streaming Platforms
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In India, digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+Hotstar have significantly altered the representational ways of looking at women. The “on-demand culture” has allowed the emergence of newer subjectivities which go beyond the socially conditioned and Bollywood-centric portrayals of Indian women. Shahana from the web series Bang Baaja Baaraat (2015) and Tara Khanna from Made in Heaven (2019) embody such non-conformist subjectivities and engage with the institution of marriage on their own terms. In choosing to get married to a boy found on the dating app Tinder and involving parents into her marriage, Shahana defies the conventional functions of North Indian wedding which, while showing complete reliance on the family elders, frames the bride-to-be in mostly passive and traditional roles. Shahana’s character depicts the complexities of urban relationships and questions the romanticised notion of Indian wedding and the ensuing gendered roles which prescribe social and personal isolation for women. Similarly, Tara’s journey in Made in Heaven shows the need for release from such isolation. Her astute observations of other women’s desperation and forced resignation serve to recreate how Indian weddings are typically imagined. Tara’s life and her interventions into her client’s weddings generate a feminist outlook which challenges the ways in which Indian women are portrayed on screen and acknowledged in Indian weddings. By analysing Bang Baaja Baaraat and Made in Heaven from a feminist lens, I intend to argue how the digital space has been able to show the absurdity of traditional representations of Indian women. I will argue how these web series have exposed the implicit sexual violence in the “recognised” versions of Indian women on screen and in the Indian weddings.

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  1. 1.

    In using the phrase “Indian wedding”, I mean specifically Hindu wedding practices and customs and their largely conflated representations as “Indian” through Bollywood movies, news channels and social media platforms.

  2. 2.

    Emma Dawson Varughese hints at the feeling of estrangement which also informs the postmillennial experience in her article, “‘New India/n Woman’: Agency and Identity in Post-millennial Chick Lit” where she quotes Subir Dhar as follows: “[D]ue to rising levels of human dissatisfaction with the acquisition of material possessions, individuals’ self-directed questions about personal worth and purpose of existence, fears and feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and friendlessness, radical disquietudes, all [are getting] aggravated by the tensions of a highly technologised and urban-centred existence in a contemporary postindustrial world scenario” (Varughese 2015, 331). She further discusses the social and political changes in the postmillennial years which have re-defined the visual encounters because “a significant proportion of life in postmillennial India involves new forms of cultural consumption and that much of that cultural consumption has to do with ‘seeing’” (Varughese 2018, 14). The paradigm shift in the visual encounters in the postmillennial India is part of the feminist interventions which inform Shahana and Tara’s portrayal in Bang Baaja Baaraat and Made in Heaven.

  3. 3.

    This shloka, as Pandurang Vaman Kane states in his work, History of Dharmaśāstra, Vol II, Part 1, appears in Śabara’s commentary on Jamini’s Pūrva Mīmāṁsā Sūtras and also by Medhātithi in his commentary on Manusmṛti 9.101. Kane argues that the gift of the bride (Kanya daan, sometimes interpreted as the gift of the virgin girl) contains a secondary use of the word gift which means transfer of guardianship from the father to the husband. The primary meaning of this ritual, as Nishimura argues, designates the girl as an impediment in performing the highest duty of renouncing the world. In accepting the gift (“which embodies a strong religious connotation as the expiation of pollution or ‘sin’”), the groom symbolically endangers his own status by becoming a householder which is less valued in the Brahmanical hierarchy when compared to the supreme act of renunciation (Nishimura 1996, 414). Thus, it becomes absolutely essential to bind the groom, and also the bride, to the moral code by extracting their word to abide by the referential function of the shloka. As per the Brahmanic tradition, the groom can reclaim his status by taking a pilgrimage to one of the most holy cities in India, Kaashi (Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh). However, the bride’s status as a pollutant who can “[cause] danger to her in-marrying family” remains intact (Nishimura 1996, 414).

  4. 4.

    This shloka has been loosely translated by Devdutt Pattanaik as “In responsibility, success and pleasure, may I (the bride) always be on your side. In responsibility, success and pleasure, may I (the groom) always be on your side” and claimed as the “aggregated truth of marriages in India” (2021, 2). However, Pattanaik’s translation obscures the moral theatricality which functions through the recitation of this particular shloka. This reifies the familial and gendered construction of a Hindu family where the individuals are subsumed within the larger structure of a family. Simply put, it cannot be considered emancipatory if the wife and husband take pledges to be on each other’s side by reciting the shloka whose referential and locative function seeks to conform the individuals under the moral code of a family institution. The value of such a relationship takes on not a psychological or affective but, rather, a tactical implication. Such conformist attitudes are encouraged and appreciated in Indian families.

  5. 5.

    Here, my use of the term the Other is informed by Tarja Laine’s understanding of the “in-between space” that cinema relies on. She writes, “[t]he status of the object and the subject of the look are inter-changeable: we are surrounded by images that look back at us, aggressively, seductively, provocatively, indifferently… images look back at us, simultaneously constituting and transforming the discourses (the mediations of ‘reality’) that define the ontological distinction between ‘the self’ and ‘the Other’, engaging us in new kinds of intersubjective relationships across social communities” (Laine 2007, 10). As seen from the Lacanian lens, recognising our desires in the cinematic portrayals is one of the constitute features of subject formation. The Other, in this sense, stands for the larger social order which subjects and situates us within the rules which shape our personal configurations. The Other operates at a symbolic level such that, as Zizek argues, “I can never put it in front of me and grasp it. It is as if we, subjects of language, talk and interact like puppets, our speech and gestures dictated by some nameless all-pervasive agency…against which I can measure myself” (Zizek 2007, 8–9).

  6. 6.

    Indian weddings have always been depicted as a grand affair through Bollywood which is “that one element of Indian culture that is more identifiable across the world than most of our other exports” (Sahaya 2020, 23). A lavish Punjabi wedding in North India, especially in posh localities of Delhi like Jor Bagh, Chhatarpur, Greater Kailash and Gulmohar Park, to name a few, is what the Indian diaspora exported to the western audience. Jenny Sharpe discusses the case of two quintessential Bollywood movies about “the Big, Fat Indian Wedding”, to map the transitions that India had gone through from the pre-liberal to the post-liberal phase in the early 1990s. Meera Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, one of the movies she analyses, “reveals a postmodern world in which cell phones and e-mail co-exist with age-old rituals and occupations” (Sharpe 2005, 59). These movies, Monsoon Wedding and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (commonly referred to as DDLJ), exuded a glowing tribute to the family values which defined what being an Indian means: being modern in outlook and traditional in marriage as, within the Indian context, “modernity is less the negation of tradition than the grounds for its formation” (Sharpe 2005, 63). These movies were instrumental in cultivating a particular image of an Indian wedding for an entire generation (both within India and abroad). Notwithstanding the hybrid roles that these movies offered to their female subjects to project the dilemmas of being modern and traditional at the same time, the emphasis on “the wedding” as “the mother of all signifiers” really enriched the meaning of the word, “great” in “The Great Indian Wedding” (Sahaya 2020, 44).

  7. 7.

    As the camera focuses on the mirror which reflects the contemplative look of the mother-daughter duo, their collective struggle against the oppressive wedding rituals and the patriarchal power relations is displayed to the audience. This illustrates an intersectional analysis where gender identities, social class, family values and patriarchal and hypergamous ideologies come together as various vectors of power and shape these women and their choices. As Victor Wallis asks, “[i]n what precise ways do the oppressions intersect? Does one dimension of oppression simply add onto another, configuring a cumulative heap of oppressions that must then be dismantled one by one, each through the actions of its own constituency? Or is there a structure that links the oppressions together in some historically discernible way? And, if there is such a structure, what is the nature of the links and how did they come to acquire their present form?” (2015, 605). In the context of Bang Baaja Baaraat, perhaps in understanding the ways in which the camera is able to capture these hitherto invisible struggles against the dominant power structures, structural limits of the marriage institution can be identified and genuine solidarities be affirmed.


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Abrol, M. (2023). Questioning the “Great” in “The Great Indian Wedding”: Streaming Feminism Through Bang Baaja Baaraat and Made in Heaven. In: Chakraborty Paunksnis, R., Paunksnis, Š. (eds) Gender, Cinema, Streaming Platforms. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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