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Yes, Indian Matchmaking is nothing but a TRP chasing show, but what is the real reason for outrage? And doesn’t it have anything redeeming at all?
Ever since the sensational 8-part series Indian Matchmaking has been released on Netflix, it has been the centerpoint of a polarising discourse on the arranged marriage scenario for Indians in general.
This is just the kind of show that invokes the incorrigible voyeur in all of us. Indian Matchmaking navigates us through the matchmaking woes mostly of the uber rich who can afford Sima Taparia to play cupid for them.
When ‘Sima from Mumbai’ knocked on the doors of clients across continents, armed with ‘biodatas’ and effortless confidence, we watched with curiosity. When Sima asked her expectant clients, “What’s your preferences, like?” we braced ourselves for the bullet points of criteria to appear on the screen.
The show has been termed everything from entertaining to regressive to downright cringeworthy. Many are morally outraged. But we need to give ourselves a moment to reflect.
What exactly are we outraged about? Where lies the epicentre of the problem of a show called out as problematic? Is the show classist, casteist and sexist? Or is this a show about a society that normalises and upholds classist, casteist and sexist norms in the name of tradition and ‘family values’?
Many would say, arranged marriages are the real social evil and if you glamorize it through a series like this, you add to the problem.
Notwithstanding the atrocity propaganda around arranged marriages, surveys suggest that 90% of Indians still opt for arranged marriages. It still remains one of the most sacrosanct ‘Indian thing’, and it doesn’t matter whether a Netflix series decide to diss or praise it. And if you look at it, are ‘arranged marriages’ really the problem? Majority of the clients, especially the Indian-Americans opted for a matchmaker on their own accord, without family coercion playing a part in it.
In an ideal scenario, everyone hopes to find their life partner under natural and preferably romantic circumstances. But as many of the clients on the show professed, it is not really possible for everyone to find their right-one ‘organically’. We all look for certain criteria (reasonable or unreasonable/ deep or superficial) in their life partner. So, if someone can do an initial screening and facilitate your meeting with someone who fits the bill, is it really such a bad thing? It still might not work out, but the probability of it working out does improve considerably.
Through some of the ‘matchings’ be it Vyasar & Rashi, or Vyasar & Manisha, or Nadia & Shekar, we actually see two people irrespective of their gender, interacting on an equal footing. Their first-date conversations are not the usual first-date conversations of Indian arranged marriages. They transcend beyond the superficial and try to know each other as individuals with specific philosophies and mindsets. We see easy-breezy chemistries, we see mutual respect and a concious effort to be honest with each other.
As women, isn’t this what we have always wanted in our interaction with a potential spouse or life partner? While many people in their preferences would still prioritize ‘tall slim and beatiful’, we also came across a biodata where a guy wanted his ‘future wife to be a feminist, so that she can be a strong role model for their children’.
Change usually occurs in imperceptible proportions, and Indian Matchmaking has portrayed some of the refreshing changes in mindset, attitude and interaction of the millennial generation that works towards gender equality in relationships.
The second important thing highlighted by this show is some of the women clients of Sima Taparia, who are not hesitant or apologetic to envision a life as well as a life-partner as per their needs and aspirations.
Be it the Type-A go-getter Aparna, or or the young and vivacious entrepreneur Ankita, these women have a clarity about what they want or don’t want in a partner and they are not afraid to ask for it. The fact that being ambitious labels them as difficult or demanding, does not ruffle their spirit. The possibility that their demand for a partner who fits into their worldview might render them into singlehood for a long time, is not enought to subjugate them into compromising on their dreams and aspirations.
Yes, as women they want to be with a partner, share their life’s journey with someone but they were not willing to do that at the cost of giving up on their other life goals and endeavors, things that they have worked hard to achieve.
This show has turned our focus on this creed of independent, empowered and strong-headed women who see marriage as something that would complement their lives, and not something that becomes the centrepoint of their whole existence. We all root for Ankita for the grim warrior-like expression she gives Geeta, the Delhi-based matchmaker, in return for the highly condescending lecture on how only women should shoulder the moral responsibility of making a marriage work. That was a face of resistance, a face of change.
Name one Indian girl, who at some point of time in their lives has not faced a Geeta aunty lecturing them on how women should give up on their careers, dreams etc etc to make their marriages work? This show shifts our focus on to women like Ankita who reject such sanctimonious notions.
Ankita was first introduced in the show as someone who is “not-photogenic” and “who needs to lose some weight”, by the time her story comes to close, she steers her definition to that of a woman who gave her blood and sweat to establish a successful business of her own, and rose above her body image issues to become a strong independent woman. If that is not empowering to watch, then I don’t know what is.
The third intentional or unintentional consequence of the show is its portrayal of the unlikely heroes in the background.
In an arranged marriage setting, parents are often seen as dictatorial beings trying to get their offsprings hitched at gunpoint. While the show did have its share of that in the form of Akshaye’s dominating marriage-maniac mom, giving her 25 year old son a choose-one-out-of three-right-now sort of an ultimatum, the show also has its fair share of supportive moms and dads who help their children navigate the course of matchmaking.
We see Vyasar’s sweet and unassuming mom who raised him single-handedly and just wanted him to be happy in a relationship. She was warm and welcoming to the girls who came to their home, without firing personal and prying questions at them. I couldn’t help but cheer for Nadia’s parents, cheerful and sportive, who remained involved in the whole matchmaking process for their daughter all the while giving her enough space and liberty to make an individual decision. Even in the arranged marriage game, these parents remained supportive and respected their children as adults. They respected their ability to decide for themselves.
There were also many problematic issues in the show. But that is primarily because there are many problematic issues in our society.
Yes, the show projected with much panache the flagrant casteism in their clients but the truth is it doesn’t even scratch the surface. We live in a society where matrimonial websites have separate handles named ‘Punjabi Matrimony’, ‘Bengali Matrimony’ and so on. We live in a society where honour killings of couples who dare to breach their rigid caste divides is a regular occurence. So maybe our outrage needs to be redirected from the TRP grabbing sensationalism of a TV series to the societal evils which are so ubiquitous that we don’t even give a second thought to it.
Indian Matchmaking has its cringeworthy moments. But that should not cloud our vision from its moments of inspiration and change. While it shows us that many are still stuck with primitive patriarchal notions of adjustment and compromise directed solely at women, of colorism and casteism but it also shows us shifts in attitudes and the changing notions of ‘arranged marriage’ for many. This new face of arranged marriage grounded in gender equity , honesty and mutual respect is a cause for optimism and deserves applause and attention.
Image source: pixabay
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Doctor. Writer. Dreamer.
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