Netflix has a way of taking its audiences by a storm. Despite the controversies, they always find an audience willing to dig in. And Netflix rarely disappoints when it comes to its original series. And a lot of them can start a debate amongst the masses. The latest Netflix original that has social media abuzz is Indian Matchmaking. A show that takes us to the rich households of Indians and NRIs in India and abroad, as they make use of the services of a matchmaker to find their life partner. The show follows business and a practice that we have all heard of or have probably been a part of too. A business that is dubbed “Tinder Premium” by a friend of one of the people on the show.
You have probably been hearing a lot about the misogynistic, sexist, bigoted stereotypes that the show is propagating. But if you think that what is being shown isn’t real, you need to look closely at our society. The show brings to its audience a side of the Indian society that many of us didn’t even realise still exists. But many viewers, like myself, saw many people whom we know in real life, depicted by the people on the show. True, that the show fails to present a balanced picture of modern India. But then again, the part of our society that has been left out rarely goes to matchmakers. So, what all did Indian Matchmaking remind us about arranged marriages in India? Here’s a look at Netflix’s latest controversial and extremely intriguing show, Indian Matchmaking!
What is Indian Matchmaking all about?
Indian Matchmaking follows Sima Taparia, a matchmaker from Mumbai, and the life of 8 of her clients, in their search for a life partner. “Sima Taparia from Mumbai”, as she always introduces herself, helps find the perfect life partner for her clients based on a database of biodatas that she has curated over the years. She uses interests and other preferences of her clients (that she calls criteria), to bring them what she calls their ‘perfect match’.
The show follows Aparna Shewakramani, a lawyer from Austin, Texas. A headstrong woman, who knows exactly what she wants, Aparna poses a great challenge for Sima. Nadia Jagessar, a wedding planner from New Jersey, who finds it difficult to find a good Indian match because of her Guyanese descent. Pradhyuman Maloo, a Jewellery designer from Mumbai, who has rejected more than 100 proposals because he cannot find what he’s looking for from the biodatas sent to him.
Vyasar Ganesan, a college counsellor at Austin, Texas, whose jolly, outgoing and kind nature, instantly made him an audience favourite. Akshay Jakhete, from Mumbai, a 25-years-old, whose mother pressured him into getting married as he was getting too old. Ankita Bansal, a businesswoman from Delhi, in search of a life partner who would support her ambitions while following his own. And Rupam, a single mother from Denver, looking for a suitable partner to begin the next chapter of her life with.
The show clearly leaves out a lot of different perspectives that a more diverse selection would have presented. However, the show brings to light some extremely controversial issues with Indian matchmaking. People on the internet are flabbergasted by the ‘criteria’ that people demand, and the comments that are made about prospective matches on the show. But what we need to remember is that more than propagate such kind of thinking, the show is informing the masses about the kind of bigotry that still exists in our society. Because believe me, nothing that was shown on the show was made up. It has reflected the regressive mindset of our society perfectly well. So, what are the issues that Indian matchmaking has brought up?
1. It’s still a man’s world
We all want to believe that people now understand that the most important thing in a marriage is a union of minds. But as Sima Taparia rightly points out, it is a union of families. And don’t forget that we are a patriarchal society. The ‘criteria’ that Akshay’s mother Preeti describes for her ideal daughter-in-law, had many confused. Was she describing a human being or a pole? Pradhyuman, who spends almost 3 episodes rejecting women by only looking at their biodata and complaining about not feeling any connect, jumps at the prospect of marrying a New Delhi-based model. While women like Rupam are told that their prospects are few as she is divorced and has a child. Aparna is repeatedly reminded that she needs to make her attitude more pleasing to attract men. And Ankita is told to rein in her ambitions in the name of adjustment.
All through the show, the women are told to compromise on every aspect of their life. While the men only need to be more flexible in their rejection process. Women are repeatedly told to lose weight, or be more pleasing, or give up on their ambitions. None of this can be any closer to the truth. I have seen all of this happen in real life.
2. Families still play a make-or-break role in matchmaking
In India, marriages are a union of families. It doesn’t sound like a negative thing, and it isn’t in many ways. But when we start evaluating its implications, a sad reality emerges. The show does an excellent job of showcasing the issues that arise due to the involvement of families to this degree. Don’t get me wrong. I am all for making your family a part of your decision to get married. But to what extent? Aparna’s mother goes so far as to call one of her prospects a ‘loser’ on TV.
Sima Taparia insists that the entire family meet the couple, who themselves are meeting for the first time. The most amazing of all is Akshay’s family. His parents give him an ultimatum to decide among three girls within a week or they will choose his bride. His mother is clear on the front that she will be controlling every aspect of his and his future wife’s life. The same way as she has been doing for his elder brother. It is important to mention here that Akshay has no problem with this. in fact, he says that he wants a wife who is just like his mother.
It is when families get involved that issues of caste, colour, height and all other superficial factors come in. Because weddings in India are as much about social status as they are about families. No one wants to marry a girl who will not score at least an 8 on the physical beauty scale. Family history and background matter just as much. Vyasar is the only man on the show that you would want to marry. There’s nothing about the guy that you can hate. But his estranged father’s criminal past is something that he realises can be a deal-breaker for many Indian families.
3. It is harder for single mothers, divorced or widowed women to remarry
When Sima Taparia meets Rupam, she tells her that her prospects are fewer because she is a divorcee with a child. The Internet has been bubbling over these regressive remarks. While their anger is justified, we cannot ignore the fact that it reflects a very disturbing reality about our society. Modernisation has taken some of us far enough to not ostracise widowed or divorced women. Although that still happens in many parts. Yet, it hasn’t evolved our society so far as to accept them as brides. Or even be supportive of their decision to get remarried. So, rather than getting angry at Netflix for showing such ancient and demeaning beliefs on their show, we should raise awareness about these issues. Netflix has brought it to light, it is our job to ensure that these regressive ideals get eradicated.
4. Arranged marriages are no guarantees for a happy future
“Marriages in India are breaking like biscuits,” is how Sima puts it. Though she conveniently leaves out that this is true for arranged marriages and love marriages alike. The truth is that people hide things and lie in arranged marriages too. When his bride-to-be expresses a desire to work after marriage, Akshay agrees to her wishes. While in the next scene admitting that he wants his wife to stay at home and look after the house and kids, like his mother. He is clearly misleading her. Whether he is doing it because he doesn’t want to risk her refusal. Or because he believes she will have to do as he pleases after marriage, in unclear. However, it does bring to light the reality of fake facades that families put on in arranged marriages.
No woman who thinks for herself can be happy with a mother-in-law like Akshay’s mother Preeti. In one of the many scary inside look into her life, she tells Akshay that his elder brother’s family plans are on hold because of him. Why is that, you ask? Because Preeti has told her elder son that they cannot have a child until Akshay gets married.
One can argue that this is just one example of a control-freak woman. Sima’s colleague Geeta, introduces Ankita to Kshitij, an entrepreneur who has a health-tech startup. In their first meeting, Ankita asks Kshitij about his latest serious relationship. He tells her about an 11-months long relationship back in 2017. Later on, a friend of Ankita’s Googles Kshitij and finds out that he was a divorcee. A fact that both Geeta and Kshitij hide from her. Ankita doesn’t have any problem with the fact that he was once married. It is the attempt at hiding the truth that puts her off and rightly so. Something like this would make anyone wonder, what else was he hiding? A concern that makes Rupam’s father dismiss a match with another divorced man that Sima recommends.
5. Yes, men and their families are intimidated by strong women!
You will often hear the words, good-natured, adjusting, flexible, etc. in the criteria that describe the ideal wife. If you think about it, what is it that these words are conveying? Men and their families do not want a headstrong woman in their house who will not make sacrifices with her career. Or someone who will keep her own interests above the family’s unreasonable demands. Geeta, who is supposed to be a more open-minded and liberal matchmaker, tells Ankita, that if she hopes for marital bliss, she will have to be the one to make career sacrifices.
Sima repeatedly advises Aparna to work on her attitude. And complains extensively about the difficulty in finding a match for her, since she isn’t ready to adjust. None of the men is told that they have an attitude problem. Despite it being extremely obvious by the end that Pradhyuman wants to marry an eye candy. And Akshay doesn’t have a mind of his own.
Final review on Indian Matchmaking!
There is lots more to be said about this show but I want to stress one thing again. This show doesn’t promote regressive ideologies so much as it reveals their persistence in society. There is a lot that this show doesn’t bring to the screen. But it rarely misrepresents the backward thinking of many in our society. The onus is on us to use this information to make better decisions. To call out the Simas and Preetis and Pradhyumans and Akshays around us. Sima Taparia is simply a businesswoman who understands the needs of her clientele. She is not a problem. It is the people she serves. People around us and like us! Let this show serve as a reminder of how far we need to go as a society. And remember, that just because these things are not happening around you, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.