Who Called It Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking’ And Not ‘Upper-Class Hindu Matchmaking’?
“She should be flexible”, this weird prerequisite for marriage on Netflix’s latest reality-based show and heavily memed statement pretty much sums up what Indian Matchmaking is getting at. I watched the whole show in one night, yes it’s cringe-worthy, its the kind of show you love to hate-watch. Through the course of eight seemingly harmless, silly episodes, the show managed to propound casteism, classism, colourism and sexism while normalising the notoriously annoying “aunty gaze”. Sure it’s fun to watch Sima Taparia, India’s self-proclaimed top matchmaker making trips between India and the US to set up her clients with their ideal match. This ideal match, of course, means the individual and the family’s ideal match or society’s ideal match (because real talk, this matchmaker actively refutes individuality). And it’s done rather unironically. That’s what makes it even more amusing. Between comparisons with Love Is Blind, Dating Around, Too Hot to Handle and the chronicling of mismatched dates, another mark the show seems to miss is the title. Apart from being obviously problematic, Indian Matchmaking is sadly mistitled.
The show begins to introduce its candidates one by one beginning with Aparna who is an American citizen and like most Indians settled in the US wants to marry an Indian. The next is Mumbai-based Pradhyuman who is in the family jewellery business. Then came Nadia, Shekhar, Vinay, Akshay, the list goes on extensively as Sima’s catalogue of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes is. After the first four candidates are introduced, a pattern shows itself. And I’m not just talking about the pattern where all the families looking for brides want them to be 5’3” or above. I’m talking about the dominantly upper-class Hindu clientele that Sima represents. So who called it Indian Matchmaking and not ‘Upper-Class Hindu Matchmaking’?
It’s 2020 guys, who wants to be told they need to let go of everything they stand for and sent on sometimes chaperoned dates while being constantly told it’s going to be “difficult” to find you a match because you know, you have high (or any) standards? Or worse, be a successful lawyer mansplained by an astrologer about how she needs to let go of her stubbornness? But, let’s make one thing clear, although everything Sima aunty wanted her clients to do offended me, I see how the Netflix show is authentic documentation of how the matchmaking business functions. It is a full-blown industry thriving and minting money by acting as a medium of “destiny” as they claim. But none of it is relatable. As a young Indian person who isn’t filthy rich, doesn’t live overseas and isn’t a Hindu who needs someone from a particular caste to marry, Indian Matchmaking’s realistic representation of the Shaadi business is completely lost on me. And the sentiment isn’t wholly obscure. Considering the number of people cringing at the show, we know that far too many people might see it as something they understand but aren’t necessarily familiar with. We know that marriages are a big deal in India that is something all Indian cultures will admit to. We allocate massive budgets to weddings, we want to be sanskari at least when it comes to weddings (it’s funny how most people are reminded about tradition only when its time to find a partner) and we place too much importance on what society thinks. That’s years of conditioning, patriarchy and collective consciousness for you. But do we all go to matchmakers? Do we all believe in kundali? Do we all believe in astrology or numerology *cough* superstition *cough* or spend millions on weddings?
Sidenote: Full disclosure, I feel terrible for the sweet people looking for their life partner on the show only to be met with a regressive point of view of the past generation of their family and aunty’s judgement.
The show’s clearly elitist approach is hard enough to relate to but having only a specific part of Indian culture which is upper-class Hindu culture represent all of India’s outlook for finding partners is hardly an effort towards accuracy. When you factor in Indian diaspora from the US, it makes the title even more inaccurate. The candidates often reiterate their Americanness saying that they identify as American. This part cannot be neglected because Indian-Americans often indulge in what they think is traditional due to their nostalgia for a homeland. You’ll find them adhering to customs that most Indians living in India won’t. This begs the question, why are their weird and cringey views simplified and watered down into Indianess? You could very well blame it on majoritarianism, but even that is a rarity. For example, I have a friend (rich upper-class Hindu) who is currently on the lookout for a bride but he too has resorted to finding someone on Shaadi.com or through family friends rather than hiring a matchmaker. Even if I am completely mistaken and the pool of Sima’s clientele is huge (we are a big population after all), the show still features only Hindus with the exception of a Punjabi woman.
The fact remains that Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking shows India as a homogeneous society and it’s easy to miss the error in the title. I mean, look at the wedding-centric movies we watch, the ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding’ has been a recurring feature in Bollywood Shaadi dramas complete with a sangeet, Haldi-Mehendi and reception model. The typical YRF/Dharma family is predominantly Hindu and that’s how we’re accustomed to seeing a certain type of wedding on screen, one that doesn’t speak the truth of our whole wedding-obsessed culture. It is then easy to see a show based on matchmaking follow the same pattern bank on the same collective consciousness.
Watching Indian Matchmaking, I cringed one too many times and felt personally embarrassed for Sima Taparia and the people casually talking about their double standards, misogyny and casteist point of views only to realise that my culture, one of India’s many diverse cultures shares no resemblance with it. It did take me a while to get to that conclusion though. But when I did I was secretly relieved that I and many others who aren’t one of the many names in Sima’s catalogue aren’t sharing the responsibility of the ongoing cringe-fest.
Cover image: Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India