Directed by the Oscar-nominated filmmaker Smriti Mundhra, Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking revolves around the work of Mumbai’s top matchmaker Sima Taparia. Armed with biodatas, we see her meeting a wide range of families in the US and in India, understanding her clients’ criteria for their prospective partners. Taparia then searches her wide database and pulls out suitable profiles for these clients. And she does this, all the while explaining the hows and whys of her matchmaking process to the audience.
Addressed as aunty, Taparia symbolises every neighborhood Indian aunty on a mission to get youngsters in her vicinity married. She sets up people randomly. For most part of the season, she goes on interpreting compatibility between two people based solely on the number of similarities they might have. The eight-episode show follows a couple of stories, although the narrative is quite scattered. We hardly see even half of the stories conclude. But honestly, that is not even the worse part of Indian Matchmaking.
As stated above, Taparia’s client base spreads over cities and continents. And there’s a clear distinction in how her Indian clients and her Indian-American clients respond to the idea of arranged marriage. The diaspora describes arranged marriage as “Tinder Premium, but with families involved” (as an NRI from the US herself explains). These people exercise control over their decisions. Sure, their families are part of the process, but all of them merely view the tradition as a quirky alternative to dating apps.
On the other hand, when it comes to families based in India, they exert a greater say in their choice of life-partners. As the show progresses, we see some of the parents pressurising their children to get married. They even go as far as emotionally manipulating their children to get their way. But the show clubs both of these experiences–the diasporic and the national–together. And it casually neglects harmful effects this practice has on today’s youth in India, where resistance to arranged marriage usually leads to caste-based atrocities, honour killings, and rampant violence against women.
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The Caste and Class Problem
The background score gets progressively perky and cooler, as Taparia moves between Mumbai, Delhi and America. But sadly, the same cannot be said for the very intention of the show that makes casteist and classist values sound so casual. Taparia’s metrics of compatibility seems to merely conspire towards upholding oppressive structures of caste in place (caste comes under the community headline in her database). Her clientele in the show is also exclusively upper-class and wealthy – a majority of them are in fact, NRIs. By focusing only on this one percent of the entire population, Indian Matchmaking chooses to remain blind to the realities of India. It merely produces a picture of arranged marriage that is heavily sanitised, elitist and often comes with no real repercussions.
The Gender Problem
Throughout the show, Taparia claims that the secret to a happy marriage is ‘compromise’. Which would have been a fine piece of wisdom, had it not been relayed only in case of her female clients. The male clients are hardly ever told to be accommodating. In fact, Taparia constantly indulges them, to an extent that the show feels like an excuse to caress the great Indian male-ego.
A prime example of this would be how two of her clients are treated. When Vyasar is rejected by a prospective match because he earns less than her, Taparia condoles him by saying that the girl should have also taken his good heart into consideration. On the other hand, we see her constantly launch a verbal attack on Aparna, a fiercely ambitious lawyer from Texas. Taparia constantly takes a jibe at her picky behaviour, and even goes to the extent of undermining her intelligence. Aparna is declared ‘too stubborn’ because she has specific criterion for men. But in a blatantly hypocritical move, the fussy male client Pradyuman has ‘high expectations’ when he is not able to like a woman.
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Indian matchmaking doesn’t hold a mirror to society, as it falls short of even doing that. From horoscopes, to astrologers, to face readers, the show portrays the most ridiculous side of Indian weddings. But packaging all of that as ‘Indian tradition’ without countering any of it, Indian Matchmaking feeds into the very generalisations of India that have been made popular by the western culture.
The show exoticises a cultural practice that in reality is steeped in decades of misogyny, casteism, and gender inequality. There is a lack of self-awareness in the show. It refuses to have its own opinion on arranged marriage. Which also invariably points towards how it ends up advocating Taparia’s questionable views on caste and gender. In some ways then, watching Indian Machmaking felt like a distressing reminder that perhaps we’re right where we’ve been for generations. Especially in terms of silently following regressive practices.
Dyuti Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.