Confession: I love reality dating shows. Not like The Bachelor; more like Love Is Blind. Something that subverts the tropes of the genre but is still interesting and fun to watch. So of course when I heard about Netflix’s latest offering, Indian Matchmaking, I knew I was going to watch it. The show is about the controversial method of arranged marriages for young Indian people in both India and the United States. Over the eight episodes, I found myself incredibly invested in these people and their love lives. But it also leads to a lot of conversations about, and examinations of, Indian culture.
The show follows Mumbai’s top matchmaker, Sima Taparia, as she travels mainly between the two countries creating and sharing individuals’ “biodata,” which is a cross between a resume and an online dating profile. As she gets to know the seven main participants, she pulls from her very large list of folks to offer them their best option for a spouse.
Houston, Texas lawyer Aparna is the antagonist of Indian Matchmaking without a doubt. She’s a single woman in her mid-30s, which presents a whole host of issues. And she’s ambitious, which seems to conflict with a lot of the tenets of matchmaking. Sima constantly frets over Aparna’s lack of flexibility and inability to compromise. It’s likely that some of Aparna’s unwillingness to compromise is because dating can be so exhausting. Her glowing review of the one guy she really seemed to hit it off with was that she “didn’t hate him.”
On the other hand, you spend the first couple episodes rooting for Nadia from New Jersey. She’s like J.Lo in The Wedding Planner — pulling off these beautiful weddings and then going home to her Trader Joe’s meal for one. She’s been burned but she’s still optimistic. Her male equivalent is Vyasar, a jovial college counselor also based in Texas. He’s dated mostly white girls but really thinks settling down with an Indian woman is more well suited. The man is literally your textbook nerd; he loves comic books and plays Dungeons and Dragons with his friends. But he’s rejected by his first match for lack of ambition, among other things.
As a self proclaimed “astrology queer,” the fact that Sima Auntie uses things like astrological sign and numerology to predict pairings is cool. A lot of people think that stuff is total BS, and it very well may be. But there’s also a lot to be said about how those things subconsciously factor into your life. At times, she also consults a face reader to offer additional insight. He absolutely nails Aparna and her hang-ups, and predicts that if Vyasar marries his second match, they will have twins. It’s never meant to be scientific, it’s meant to offer deeper understanding.
One of the other big differences in culture highlighted in Indian Matchmaking is men’s readiness to marry. Here in the United States, men who want to marry in their 20s are unicorns. Hell, finding men who want to marry in their early 30s feels hard a lot of the time. But the age thing is something you see with the three men on the show. Vyasar is in his early 30s, as are many of the men who are matches for the two American women. But the two men in India, Pradhyuman and Akshay, are both in their 20s, their families forcing them to marry.
— Kiranjot ⛅️ (@_kjsaini) July 28, 2020
I feel bad for Akshay. It’s clear that he wants none of this; he’s at the mercy of his extremely domineering mother. Akshay is only 25, and he does not want to settle down. The first time we see him, his older brother is giving him a speech about his reluctance to marry and how he’s behind. Like, the plan was he should have married at 23 like his brother did.
Akshay’s marital status (or lack thereof) is literally giving his mother anxiety. The woman is having full-on heart palpitations because her 25-year-old son has yet to marry. I can understand cultural traditions, but this seems extreme. At one point, she flat out tells him he has, like, three days to pick a girl or she will pick one for him.
This woman takes the overbearing mother trope to new levels. It’s painfully obvious that her sons have been browbeaten into obedience. Akshay’s sister-in-law is just as subservient to her mother-in-law. His mother actually boasts about how it’s her daughter-in-law’s responsibility to care for her husband the same way she does. And one of the reasons she’s pushing Akshay so hard? By dragging his feet on the whole marriage thing, he’s holding up his brother and sister-in-law having a baby. Like, this woman probably has a Google calendar tracking this girl’s period so she knows when to tell them to have a baby. It’s fucking wild.
— GoodIndian_Girl (@GoodIndian_Girl) July 31, 2020
While a lot of us in the United States are watching Indian Matchmaking as a form of escapist entertainment, there are many who have offered criticism of the show’s premise and execution. Some of the big cultural issues the show inadvertently highlights are colorism, classism, and a reinforcing of gender stereotypes. Akshay’s mother is the perfect example of that last one.
Arranged marriages are still quite common in India (and other parts of the world.) But just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s good. Indian Matchmaking doesn’t take a particular stance on their feelings on the subject, and that is clearly very intentional. Arranged marriage is a way “to ensure that the caste bloodline remains ‘pure’ and is not contaminated by the impure blood of lower castes,” writes caste scholar and activist Suraj Yengde.
I don't know who needs to hear this but… The show Indian Matchmaking on Netflix glorifies the caste system, a form of systemic oppression and racism which is still very real and very harmful in India and Indian-American culture, and you SHOULD NOT watch or support it! 🙂
— – ̗̀Natalie Estes™ ̖́- (@NatalieEstesTM) August 5, 2020
According to the show’s creator, Smriti Mundhra, intentions with the show may address a lot of the criticism though. “My hope is that it will spark a lot of conversations that all of us need to be having in the South Asian community with our families — that it’ll be a jumping off point for reflections about the things that we prioritize, and the things that we internalize,” Mundhra said in an interview with Decider. Within the confines of the show, it’s hard to see how they could have addressed the issue head-on. But by using it to hold a mirror up to the culture it’s showcasing, there is a lot of room for conversation and examination.
Unsurprisingly (spoiler alert!), none of the people looking for love on Indian Matchmaking find love in the end. I only found this out thanks to Google. The show purposely leaves the ending ambiguous. “This is an ongoing cycle of life for our community and for Sima, specifically. She’s going to continue doing this work, on camera and off. The story continues,” Mundhra tells OprahMag.com. It’s really sad in the cases of Nadia and Vyasar, because they’re just so sweet. With many of the other participants, this show highlighted how not ready they were for marriage.
If you take Indian Matchmaking at face value, it’s a very entertaining show that highlights another side of dating and relationships. But it does lead to a lot of interesting conversations about the differences in culture. Even with the criticism, the show is still something you can enjoy. You will want to do more research on the subject after finishing the show. And learning something new is never a bad thing.