By now, I’m sure you’re all aware of the show Indian Matchmaking on Netflix. The show is being called “divisive” and is said to show a “skewed perspective” on Indian culture according to reviewers +that I Googled like 10 minutes ago. I guess I’m not surprised, but I think those people are kind of missing the radical potential of this show. As always, this review has got spoilers, so if you want to watch the show, do that first!
The show centers on Seema Taparia, a woman who calls herself “Mumbai’s top matchmaker”. Seema claims her job is “based on good faith,” which is terrifying to hear as a scientist. She’s essentially saying her job depends on human beings not wanting to fuck each other over. This woman’s job is hard, y’all. I would rather be the person who does the mathematics for finding black holes than do her job. So on that level alone, I have great respect and appreciation for this woman.
The show is interesting because like life, it doesn’t have any set starting point or ending point. It offers way less closure and hand-holding than most American reality TV shows about dating. In the first two episodes, we follow the stories of two women, Aparna and Nadia, and one man, Pradhyuman in their process of finding a life partner. As the episodes progress, they add more people to the mix.
So other reviewers are touting Aparna as their feminist savior, but I find her to be at best kind of annoying. I really tried to like her. I want to relate to her because I suspect I’ll be in the same position myself, looking for a life partner at 34 years old, but for very different reasons. To me, she comes off as a workaholic with no chill. The second guy Seema sets her up with, Dilip, literally backs off because Aparna says she doesn’t know what she would do on a 10-day vacation and would prefer 3 days instead. She seems to have drank ALL the assimilated, middle-class Kool-Aid. And yea, I know, that alone probably isn’t a valid reason to not like her (though I’m like, dude, that’s why men won’t stay in your life. Because you’re asking for a robot, not a human being). But I think the point at which I was most disappointed was when she gets annoyed with Shekar because he, get this, has a conversation with one of the waiters at a restaurant. I don’t know about you all, but I think anyone who is kind to service workers is a good person. Apparently, Aparna does not. She gets annoyed because all of his attention is not on her. At that point, I was like, I’m done with this broad. How self-centered can you be?
Nadia was the second person to appear in the eligible singles lineup. I loved listening to her talk about her background. As another Indian who comes from a community nobody has ever heard of, I totally relate to her when she talks about being Guyanese, and how confused Indians from larger communities get about people from underrepresented communities. She also seemed like a sweet, fun person. I love that she’s a dancer. I got so mad at Vinny for abandoning her because I was like, I just want this woman to fall in love and be so happy! So it was really sweet at the end when she was talking to Shekar. They’re both such great people.
Pradhyuman is located in Mumbai and is a jewelry designer. In the United States, the equivalent of Pradhyuman would be one of those white guys with long hair who lives in either LA or Colorado, drinks kombucha all the time and practices Buddhism. In India, you’re still required to have some sense of pragmatism, but Pradhyuman seems like such a brooding-artisty type. He rejects girl after girl claiming that he wants to feel attraction. In the end, he seems to fall for a model from Delhi who Seema set him up with. Someone in the show called him shallow at one point, and I kinda agree.
The next bachelor who appears on the show is one of my favorites–Vyasar. A guidance counselor who lives with his mom, brother, uncle, and grandparents, Vyasar is a gentle giant with a big heart and a great sense of humor. He also has some skeletons in his closet–he reveals later in the season that his parents are divorced and his father was in jail for a lot of his childhood. He feels anxious to share this with his potential wives, claiming at one point that his family had to “throw respectability out of the window”. It breaks my heart that people would judge or reject someone so kind for that reason. Seema encourages him to be honest with his second match and tell her his story.
The next bachelor to appear on the show is Akshay, who is a fascinating character. He goes through a subtle transformation from when he appears to the last episode. Mostly, I feel sorry for him because his mother wants him to be married by the age of 25. God only knows why this woman thinks 25 is the right age, but she was really hell-bent. We learn that Akshay went to school in Boston. I can imagine it must have been hard to go from having the independence of living alone to being back in your mother’s house.
Akshay gets 70 proposals or something and is not interested in a single one. I feel like in some alternate universe, it would have been interesting to see how he develops if he moved out of his parents’ house, away from such pressure to get married. His mom would probably die just hearing about it. I do think he is a little young and has not quite figured himself out yet, which can cause problems in a marriage. His mom has done so much of his thinking for him. However, it was really cute to watch him fall in love with his fiancee. The second he meets Radhika, he claims “her eyes are so captivating, it’s hard to take my eyes off her”. I was like, we may yet make a romantic out of you, Akshay! In the episodes that follow, we watch him call this girl when he is on business trips and hang on to her every word like a helpless puppy. Eventually, he agrees to get engaged to her. From a cold, reserved young man, he becomes someone whose every thought is about a woman. I think if that’s how this process can change people, maybe it’s not half bad.
Ankita has by far, the most interesting story to me because of what it says about matchmakers. Ankita comes to Seema looking for proposals, but Seema feels out of her league in this case. Ankita is the owner of a startup clothing company, and she is a far cry from traditional. Her relatives started looking for matches for her when she was 23, and told her she should lose weight to be attractive to men. Though it causes her pain to hear these things, she says no and holds her ground, claiming that if a man does not like her the way she is, then she does not want to be married.
Seema enlists the help of her friend Geeta, another matchmaker, who claims to “better understand this generation”. But from her interactions with Ankita, it seems like Geeta’s idea of being in touch with younger people is to chastise young women into submission so that they say yes to any proposals they are given. In short, it looks like sexism. Geeta forgets to mention the first match she gives Ankita is a divorcee, completely losing Ankita’s trust when she finds out. By contrast, Seema tries to play up the strengths of the people she matches. Sometimes she makes character judgments based on her experience of who is easy to match with others, but that seems like a different approach than telling girls to just give up on their hopes and dreams altogether. Ankita is probably the person on the show I would most likely be friends with. In the end, she decides not to get married, choosing instead to focus on her startup and her friendships. (That scene with the friend honestly gave me subtle queer vibes. A girl can hope! I’m always holding out on y’all to be a bunch of huge gays).
So yea, we get a look into an industry that makes billions of dollars (trillions of rupees?) in India. It’s interesting to see the biodata that Seema puts together. Throughout the show, you get the impression that everyone asks for the same thing in a partner, more or less, and they are usually expecting way too much. Women will say “I want a tall, handsome guy who loves family, communicates clearly, is a good person” vagaira vagaira. Men will say “I want a slim, educated girl who is a little bit traditional but not crazy, and who loves family but also has ambition” vagaira vagaira. And then Seema has to put together this biodata that really sells a person up–it’s almost like a marriage resume. The part I found interesting was the category called “community”–she sometimes includes a phrase or two about what caste or part of India her clients are from. There was plenty from that section that I looked up on Google–what is a Marwari, Maheshwari, Baniya, Khatri. On the one hand, I don’t believe caste signifies anything about a person, but on the other, there are whole sections of humanity I don’t know about because I grew up in the United States.
All in all, I would say for a reality TV show, Indian Matchmaking is a stylish yet human look at the process of finding a life partner. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “best foot forward”. How much pressure is on young adult Desis to look respectable as a potential partner? The sad truth is in the 21st century, there is still a considerable amount.