From ‘cringe-worthy,’ ‘regressive,’ ‘mortifying’ and ‘misogynistic’ to ‘realistic,’ ‘true,’ ‘spot-on’ and ‘holding a mirror to Indian society and its stereotypes,’ Netflix’s latest original Indian Matchmaking has become the subject of intense debate on social media.
Starkly contrasting opinions on the content, and its treatment of the cast, who are voyeuristically watched and rated across the Indian English-speaking world ensured that this eight-part web series would garner millions of viewers ‘hate-watching’ or just plain watching the show.
In The Search Of A Suitable Partner
The part-documentary, part-reality series created by Oscar-nominated director Seema Mundhra, follows ‘Mumbai’s top matchmaker’ Sima Taparia, as she attempts to ‘find’ partners for her wealthy Indian and Indian-origin male and female clients. (Taparia had also featured in another Seema Mundhra directed Netflix docu-drama, A Suitable Girl in 2017, in which she tried to find matches for three young women, including her own daughter.)
Watch: Indian Match Making Official Trailer
The sleekly made Indian Matchmaking moves along briskly, with Taparia meeting and assessing her clients, listing their (or their parents’) ‘criteria’ for an ideal partner and finding matches for them. She shuttles between Mumbai and America with ease and it is not clear who bears the cost of her travel. She calls nearly every match ‘challenging’ and claims to struggle with what she calls ‘fickle-minded’ clients like the Houston-based lawyer, Aparna or Mumbai-based young jewellery designer Pradyuman who is ‘unable to make up his mind’. There are more ‘good-natured’ clients too; like Guyanese-Indian wedding planner Nadia and Austin-based teacher Vyasar Ganesan, rated by audiences as the show’s ‘most endearing’ participant. Vyasar has recently been in the news for calling out the ‘problematic elements‘ in the show.
Slim, Trim And Educated
Taparia adopts a fairly clinical approach to match-making and marriage and is seen as extremely judgmental in her assessments, making no apologies for the same. Problematic issues like sexism, casteism, colourism are not questioned and are seen as a given, while physical attributes like height, fairness and trimness are seen as key to even ‘considering’ a potential match by many clients.
Preeti, the mother of a Boston-return 25-year-old eligible bachelor Akshay, has drawn much flak for the sanitized list of requirements she gives for her potential daughter-in-law. Preeti’s patriarchal views and controlling attitude towards her son has drawn much talk, with Akshay being labelled an ‘archetypical mamma’s boy’ who never grows up. A lot of the criticism is also directed at Sima Taparia, who is being slammed for her ‘toxicity’ throughout the show. She is particularly criticized for using words like ‘compromise’, ‘adjustment’ and ‘flexible’ as advice, especially when she uses such terms for her female clients.
Critics feel that the series glorifies and shamelessly reinforces a lot of regressive stereotypes. At the same time, many commentators feel that criticism of the show demonstrates an acute lack of self-awareness among many upper-class, privileged Indians. It is held that the show is a reflection of all that is wrong with Indian society today. The series garners praise from many netizens for being ‘real’, not ‘at all far from the truth’ and for ‘exposing the truth behind arranged marriages’.
Sadly, Reel Life Isn’t Far From Real Life
Infuriating as it may seem, if truth be told, Indian Matchmaking is not far from the truth. However ‘mortifying’ or ‘embarrassing’ it may seem, Indian Matchmaking is really documenting some stark realities in India. It shows how matches have been, and continue to be, made in India and by Indians. It shows, in Sima Taparia, the age-old aunty many families would consult to find partners for their children. It shows that Indians largely (based anywhere) tend to be judgemental and critical of any independent thought, especially when expressed by women.
Further, it shows that the criteria for marriage has been and continues to be superficial. It holds up a mirror to how shallow caste, money and looks-obsessed Indians are. It shows that love is not a pre-condition for marriage in India. It shows that education and exposure do not necessarily bring a change in deeply ingrained beliefs. It shows that physicality (height, trimness, fairness) and wealth continue to be a priority, as first steps towards even considering a match. It shows that very few Indians are truly open-minded and liberal in the real sense of the word. It shows the people for what they are. ‘Values’ that are held dear by the Indian community in India or abroad are not values that are held dear by many of us—honesty, love, empathy, compassion, integrity… all take a back seat to caste, community, height, fairness, wealth and careers. If that is cringe-worthy then so be it.
What Indian Matchmaking can be criticized for is, much like many American dating shows, normalizing the wealthy lifestyles, the shallowness and superficiality of its cast, the totally grabby kind of consumerism that plagues American society and indeed the world… The series is also devoid of any local context, especially in the India section. It has no real-world, day-to-day problems that people face even within wealthy families. It remains almost monotonously glitzy and glamorous through its eight parts.
Regarding Indian Matchmaking, glorifying or reinforcing archaic stereotypes, one has to see that in the context of the art and the artist. When a filmmaker depicts mindless violence, injustice, murder, rape, abuse —they are often just documenting these, not supporting or deifying them. Most of the OTT-generation shows are in fact lauded because their content is starkly real and disturbing. Often, the shows take sides and differentiate the good guy from the bad. Indian Matchmaking circumvents that.
The Take Away
Indian Matchmaking is watchable because it never gets preachy or judgemental. It takes no sides. It just documents. And it is stressful for this very reason. Perhaps, Indians, are used to commenting, to expressing opinions, to judging—aspects that are starkly absent in the show. It is infuriatingly non-emotional.
It does not even evoke sympathy or empathy for loneliness – for every single one of the participants are basically lonely. Even when Nadia cries when she ghosted by a potential partner—the scene is not touching. Aparna’s 16 years of solitude does not evoke any sentiment in the viewer. Neither does the most likeable character Vyasar’s search for a soulmate.
The only emotion the show evokes is anger and indignation at what is real. Sunday Matrimonial ads come alive and take a human form in the show. The blatantly advertised preferences for caste, colour, creed and community in the ads evoke a sense of helpless exasperation, so does Indian Matchmaking. For art, after all, is rooted in reality…