I spent my weekend like many others, binge-watching the new series Indian Matchmaking that premiered last week on Netflix. From the first few responses to the show on social media, I knew that I was supposed to hate the show, be outraged at matchmaker Sima, roll my eyes at prospective bride Aparna, and cringe at every statement prospective groom Akshay ever makes.
But if I were to be honest, that's not exactly what happened. I was hooked to it though I was also going 'yikes' at frequent intervals.
The show opens with an introduction to Preeti, who belongs to an affluent family, and is looking for a match for her younger son, 25-year-old Akshay. The show chronicles eight adults in total, who have decided to explore this option to find their life partner through Sima ‘Mami’ Taparia, Mumbai’s top matchmaker, who promises to scour the seven continents to find them their perfect match.
As a woman in her late-20s, I watched on in amusement and horror as the show morphed into a Dilli Darlings meets Made in Heaven meets Dating Around. And since Indian Matchmaking is actually about real people who are being documented, it's somehow more unsettling. One could at least pretend that the reality presented in the other shows was exaggerated; but here, there's no escape. Sima Mami really does go through her giant database of singles, and refers them to an astrologer and even a face reader, who decide whose Jupiter is in a good spot and whether Mars will allow the match to happen.
The series is real — some would call it cringe-worthy — and at the same time very discomfiting, as it shows almost every patriarchal stereotype that exists when it comes to urban upper-caste arranged marriages in India. It takes you into people’s living rooms where these conversations are actually happening. Their expectations from an arranged marriage are not fictional, the characters on the show could be people you and I know. It is perturbing to see the arranged marriage ‘business’ for what it is.
Several people have taken to social media to question why Netflix is providing a platform for a show that reveals regressive notions without calling these out for what they are. Several have even opined that the show should come with a trigger warning because this process has been mentally and emotionally taxing for them.
But as a documentary, Indian Matchmaking is true to what it sets out to do. It captures the behind-the-scenes of the arranged marriage system, still the most popular method of finding a life partner in India. It does not sugarcoat the expectations and biases that people have but includes it in the footage. The adults in the show are conscious and aware of what they're setting out to do, and have sufficient agency to stop the process if they don't agree with it.
The show starts off like a light satire that you are supposed to laugh at, but as it proceeds, it soberly reminds you of how problematic the long-drawn-out system is. Akshay’s “My mom is literally what I want to be looking at in my wife” or “I want my future partner to do the same things in the house that my mom does” might make you shudder, but it will also remind you that there are many, many men like him and women who are currently still married to men who have such expectations. Even his mother Preeti, in one of the later episodes, echoes a similar sentiment: “Sons see a part of their mothers in their wives.”
While some of the people selected for the show may seem to be a world apart, many of us would probably identify with Delhi-based Ankita the most, a young “independent modern woman”, as she takes two matchmakers head-on; Sima and her colleague Geeta, the one who handles Delhi matches. Geeta insists that Ankita be adjusting and open to compromises, as “life is never equal" and that the woman’s duty is to understand that they bring the “emotional” side of themselves more than men. While we see Pradyuman and Akshay fall into the mould of a patriarchal arrangement, Ankita shoots back, expecting a more equal match and lashes out at Geeta for making women sound inferior.
The show's absurd turns make you laugh while also frustrating you, as it meanders around the stories of the eight people and their families. From a woman’s complexion to how tall she is, whether she is ‘flexible’ enough, whether she can ‘compromise,’ to the very different expectations of the men — Aparna is ‘too stubborn’ if she has specific criteria for men, but Pradyuman has ‘high expectations’ if he has not been able to like a woman so far — the show displays the very real process that many in India have had to live through when their families desperately want them “settled.”
Views expressed are author's own.