A reality show that’s actually real: ‘Indian Matchmaking’ on Netflix is the mirror no one wants to see but can’t ignore.
There’s a bleak chance you haven’t heard about ‘Indian Matchmaking’, which arrived on Netflix this weekend. The new reality show has social media in a frenzy, and expectedly so, what with the controversial topic of arranged marriages. Following one of Mumbai’s top (read high-profile) matchmakers Sima Taparia, the show gives a peek into what goes behind setting up arranged marriages of millennial Indians here and abroad —the biodata, the criteria, the process of ‘matching’, all followed by cautious dates, family opinions, and the excitement (or not) of a possible wedding. Love it or abhor it, you can’t ignore it. While the opinions about the show are sprouting fast and wild, I attempted a deep-dive into these very ideas and why this show won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
Indian Matchmaking Review:
Before you raise those eyebrows (and there are plenty eyebrows raised already), there are a few good elements to ‘Indian Matchmaking’, which shouldn’t be ignored, no matter what our personal perceptions. That the producers—including Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker Smriti Mundhra (‘St Louis Superman’)—attempted to unravel what goes on behind setting up an Indian arranged marriage today is commendable. The idea of arranged marriages is an enigma to the West, and the show aims to lift the curtain on an important part of our culture. Agree, it’s not pretty, but it’s here.
The participants are diverse, but what is common to them all, largely, is the need to find someone they want to spend their lives with – the show holds up a mirror to also how the idea of ‘love’ or ‘finding love’ is different for each person. Aparna is the self-assured woman of today who refuses to change for any man (we already see #seeyounever becoming a meme), while Nadia is vulnerable and carries her heart on her sleeve. Rupam’s story is evidence of the stigma that follows someone who is divorced and has a child, while Vyasar is a man in who is in touch with his emotions; Ankita, a confident, young woman, by the end knows, she is enough for herself. The two storylines getting the most reactions – Pradhyuman, being pushed by his family to get married, and Akshay, who looks to his mother to make every decision regarding his would-be wife.
Perhaps the heterogeneity could’ve flowed into the social and economic status as well–giving the audience a broader understanding of varied mindsets (simply the fee of a high-flying matchmaker like Taparia is something a limited section can afford).
Although there’s a filming crew around the participants and the authenticity of any reality show will always be dubious (there are already claims being made by Vinay Chadha about how Nadia presented their situation incorrectly and Akshay did not eventually marry Radhika despite a roka ceremony), it can’t be denied that everyone has opened up this aspect of their lives on a global platform, all uncomfortable / distasteful criteria included.
Lastly, while it may have been more satisfying to see how their personal trajectories panned out, it’s mature of the makers to conclude the show without it. In a way, they’re staying true to their agenda of showing the process. It’s not about the destination, but the journey these individuals take that hopefully brings personal growth as well—which it did for the few who claimed so.
The Not So Good
Let’s be clear: What’s making everyone cringe is not the show or the premise, but what people are actually looking for in partners, and the processes employed by matchmakers to deliver. It’s 2020, and the notion that urban, educated Indians still want the right height, income, domestic skills, and parental approval for their would-be spouses isn’t quite sitting right with most viewers. Matchmaker Sima Taparia’s commitment to her work sees her consult face readers, astrologers, and life coaches, as she pulls in all forces to make matches work. It must be exhausting for her and the ‘candidates’. Seems regressive? Yes. But let’s not forget she’s doing their job, i.e., catering to her clients’ wants. The prospective brides, grooms, and their families know what they are signing up for. And if it in fact isn’t what they want, they can discontinue the process—which is exactly what Ankita realised and did.
So what’s making everyone uncomfortable and annoyed is the truth. To know that this is how things still work, and we continue to be people who believe in so-called regressive ways. But is arranged marriage to blame? Is looking at a biodata much different than swiping on dating apps? The details mentioned may vary, but in essence, this match-making plays out in a similar way, going on a date based on a few facts and photos of the person. Also, have we not seen our friends and family approach relationships the same way? When marriage is on the mind, a large number pick people basis their checklist of similar preferences. So, while I am no supporter of arranged marriages, I do believe that the regression in any form of finding a partner lies within the seeker, more than any system.
Of course, there are some stereotypical things about the show as well. The Bollywood background music is a hackenyed idea. Or a shot of a canine with a religious ‘teeka’ to represent India. The endeavour may be honest, but ‘Indian Matchmaking’ could’ve been a more holistic portrayal of what India is today had it been made by a team from the country itself, and not the US.
While Taparia and her candidates may have opened themselves up to much criticism around the world, once the noise dies down, are we open to recognising that these are mindsets that exist within our circle of friends and loved ones, and perhaps to an extent, even within us? Not just seeing it but also recognising, weeding out, and growing from it, rather than sweeping it under the carpet? That’s the real question.
All images: Courtesy Netflix