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Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking is an eight episode-long glitzy exhibition of elite Indian communities and their supposedly modern take on arranged marriages.
As the opening credits start to roll on Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking,’ my senses are blasted with images of the razzle-dazzle of big, rich desi weddings. The voiceover says, “In India, the marriage is between two families, and these families have their reputation and wealth at stake.” Then, the camera pans to Sima Taparia, Mumbai’s ‘top matchmaker’ and star of the show. She is seen at several weddings, providing her visiting card to parents with offspring who are ready for marriage, introducing herself as Sima Aunty.
‘Indian Matchmaking’ is a docu-series that captures the profession of matchmaking and the evolution of the rishtas into marriages in a tradition-meets-modernity vibe. It definitely has a cute fairytale narrative to follow and is centred on rich Indians, mostly settled abroad.
The show is supposed to glamorise the idea of arranged marriages to a foreign audience. However, by doing so, it casts a glittery glow over the real issues in such marriages. Right from the overwhelming role of family and lack of individual agency, to the long discussions over caste and horoscopes, the show has it all. The double standards of physical appearance for men and women and nitpicking over incomes and family backgrounds is also shown.
While all of these issues are seen surfacing at various points of the show, they are never seen as problematic. Instead they are normalised and taken for granted as part of traditions that have to be roped into fixing of a marriage.
In one episode, for example, Sima carries a conversation with a wealthy woman looking for an ideal wife for her son. The woman lists a series of very specific attributes that she would like to see in her daughter-in-law, while the professional matchmaker nods in understanding.
When Aparna, a 34 year-old lawyer and her family list their conditions for a groom, Sima Aunty calls Aparna ‘negative’ and ‘stubborn.’ Every time she visits with a boy’s family, she is attentive and receptive to the needs of her clients. On the other hand, when she encounters eligible women who are ‘too successful’ or ‘too old,’ being ‘picky’ about their matches, she becomes critical of them.
I cannot help but wrinkle my nose at the show’s indifference towards different communities and classes that also partake in arranged marriages. Matchmaking is definitely an interesting part of South Asian culture. But the only representation that it receives need not be that of privileged, upper-caste Indians and NRIs.
There are less “ideal,” and more unique stories about marriage in Indian communities that never reach platforms like Netflix. However, the biggest mistake committed by the show is its insistence that age-old patriarchal models of marriage are beautiful, and they are here to stay.
The institution of arranged marriage is not the most pleasant idea to many Indians. We do not need more media representations that show it in a better light than necessary.
Long story short, Indian Matchmaking does not handle its subject with any nuance. It is just another addition to the pile of watered-down representations of our culture to a global audience.
Picture credits: Still from Netflix series Indian Matchmaking
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Writing intern with a passion for gender justice
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