Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking Made Me Want To Elope

Photo by Simran Randhawa
My mother grew up in the south of Malaysia in a traditional Sikh-Punjabi community and it was always assumed that she would have an arranged marriage. She was 19 when approached by an elderly lady at the gurdwara who asked her and my grandmother about her eventual desires of marriage. One meeting, a handful of letters and a move to London later, my mum and dad were married – and all in less than a year.
Twenty-five years later, arranged marriages haven’t gone anywhere. I’ve had cousins set up by matchmakers, been approached myself and joked around with aunties about potential rishtas (relationships). Growing up, arranged marriages were a given in the cultural context in which I sat and so when Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking popped up, I was intrigued.
The show follows Mumbai-based Sima Taparia as she flies between India and the US, setting up dates for her mainly middle- and upper-class clients. She arrives armed with 'biodata' (like a cross between a Tinder and a LinkedIn profile) and asks her clients what they’re looking for in a partner. Often the expected pops up – think 'stable job', 'funny', 'tall' – alongside the discriminatory and problematic: are they 'fair' or from a certain caste? Sima herself advocates that partnerships between people who have strong families, are 'tall slim trim', fair and 'flexible' are best.

For women, the process of getting to marriage seems to be an exercise in self-erasure and undermining, repackaged as 'compromise'.

While arranged marriages are still prevalent in many South Asian cultures, Indian Matchmaking does not offer much context or criticism of the problematic attitudes on show, often articulated by Sima. For women, the process of getting to marriage seems to be an exercise in self-erasure and undermining, repackaged as 'compromise'. Indian Matchmaking suggests that to find a suitor the young women must also be willing to sacrifice the inherent traits they want in a partner. Throughout the series we see the ways in which double standards, patriarchy and culture intersect — one needs only look at Aparna, one of the female matchmakees, as an example.
Aparna, as hilarious as she may be, is portrayed as the series’ villain. Sima continually infers that Aparna is stubborn, picky and generally has bad vibes, when in reality she is a woman who knows exactly what she’s looking for. By communicating the characteristics that are important to her in a partner (such as not caring about humour and the necessity of independence), Aparna breaks down the stereotypical expectation of what women are meant to be in the arranged marriage process: submissive and timid. Her high standards lead to her being portrayed as difficult – yet male matchmakees Pradhyuman and Akshay’s 150+ biodata rejections are simply shrugged off.
Individual agency is undermined throughout the series. In addition to navigating the search for a spouse, individuals struggle with resisting parents who attempt to exert their own choices and preferences upon them. In Akshay we see someone who is completely complacent towards his mother’s desires in a daughter-in-law.
The patriarchal nature of the matchmaking continually equates a woman’s worth with her marriageability. Aparna is too independent, Ankita is too 'dark', Rupam’s status as a divorcee makes her undesirable, while Nadia’s Guyanese culture means she isn’t 'Indian' enough. Indian Matchmaking glorifies this aunty gaze and the refusal to criticise arranged marriages which result from India’s casteist, classist and patriarchal society singlehandedly reinforces stereotypes. By failing to portray the progression of South Asian youth, the show homogenises the 'Indian' experience.

The refusal to criticise arranged marriages which result from India's casteist, classist and patriarchal society singlehandedly reinforces stereotypes.

When it comes to minority experiences in the media, the stakes are higher. It is unrealistic to expect an eight-episode show to be a shining light of representation but between Never Have I Ever and Indian Matchmaking, the onscreen representation of South Asian communities – especially those of the diaspora – remains thin.
Photo Courtesy Of Netflix
I’ve found the idea of an arranged marriage often fascinates Westerners: I can hardly count the number of times I’ve been asked about it, or asked if I’m having one. This is why a show which depicts Indian culture in a mostly regressive light is problematic. Indian Matchmaking may mirror the experience of many people but it is not the only experience that exists. But as a heavily promoted show on a large platform, it is going to be viewed and understood as the only experience. Only with the production of more programmes focusing on South Asia and its diaspora will progress occur; so perhaps, in its own way, Indian Matchmaking is a step towards that progress.
Indian Matchmaking is streaming on Netflix now.

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