Growing up in an Indian family, I’ve been well aware of the idea of arranged marriage, from a very young age. Many of my relatives were married through this system, which puts parents or guardians into the role of ‘matchmaker’ for their child. I’ve never really had any issue with the concept. I know it can succeed, I’ve seen it succeed.
But despite my own family’s success stories with arranged marriages, I’ve found myself growing increasingly wary of the institution it represents in India. An institution defined by casteist, colorist, and sexist ideals. An institution that is perfectly represented in Netflix’s new reality love series, Indian Matchmaking.
The show follows a prominent Mumbai-based matchmaker, Sima Taparia, as she works with clients to find their perfect life partners. Throughout the show, Taparia works with several clients in both India and America.
On the surface, Indian Matchmaking is a sweet, modern take on arranged marriage. It’s especially palatable to Western audiences who have long been critical of the idea of arranged marriage. Each episode begins with a sweet and short interview of a couple who had their marriage arranged.
The clients highlighted in the show are typically modern, progressive thinkers, putting a new spin on a dated tradition.
But despite the facade of modernism, Indian Matchmaking just goes to show how deeply problematic the system of arranged marriage is in India. Within the first 10 minutes of the show, it’s clear that Taparia and her clients rely on shallow, eurocentric ideas of beauty and sexist gender roles.
The very first episode is titled “Slim, Trim, and Educated”. If that doesn’t sum up arranged marriage, I don’t know what will.
Each and every story is injected with problematic undertones.
Aparna, a 34-year-old lawyer goes on a date with 41-year-old Srini, who hosts a podcast but it still uncertain of what he wants in his career. Aparna decides to end it with Srini, which is fine. After all, the choice is up to her. What’s not so fine is Aparna’s mother calling Srini a “loser” on television because of his career.
I’m also well aware that Indian Matchmaking is a crystal clear reflection of Desi society, and the judgmental, patriarchal standards it can hold.
Nadia, a Guyanese woman with Indian heritage, is worried that men will reject her because of her ancestry. The show had an incredible opportunity here to genuinely address the tension between people of Indian heritage from India and those from other places such as Guyana. Instead, they continued to portray Nadia’s Guyanese identity as a stain on her profile.
Akshay, a 25-year-old from India is a case study in the Oedipal complex. He wants a wife who will take care of him, his house, and his children. More specifically, he wants someone to take the role of his mother after he gets married.
And in the very last minutes of the show, a woman asks that her matches not be too dark and should be fair.
To put it simply, Indian Matchmaking represents everything wrong with Indian society. I know that arranged marriages are frowned upon in the Western world. I’ve even found myself defending the institution on many occasions. But as much as I’ve seen the success of arranged marriage, I’m also well aware that Indian Matchmaking is a crystal clear reflection of Desi society, and the judgmental, patriarchal standards it can hold.
A few summers ago, I accompanied my cousin on a pennukaanal, literally translated to “bride viewing”. My cousin went to his prospective wife’s house to meet her family and her, and while it was overwhelmingly awkward, it wasn’t problematic. That is, until we left the house and he started asking for opinions.
“She’s not that pretty, her family doesn’t seem that rich, she’s fine, I guess.”
I was thoroughly shocked. I’d never heard my family speak about people like that, but then again, I’d never seen them attempt to choose life partners.
I’m disgusted that this show even found a platform on Netflix, and I’m even more disgusted that some people view it as a modern or touching show. Because it is entirely toxic.
Everyone had an opinion based on this quick meeting and all of them were superficial.
I think part of the reason I’m so appalled at the idea of Indian Matchmaking is the fact that Sima Taparia would probably never find me a match.
I’m short, darker than her clients on the show, entirely opposed to gender roles. I like to believe that an arranged marriage could potentially work in my favor, but I know it can’t.
Frankly, I’m disgusted that this show even found a platform on Netflix, and I’m even more disgusted that some people view it as a modern or touching show. Because it is entirely toxic.
I’ll never say that I’m against arranged marriage. But I will proudly say I’m against casteism, colorism, sexism, and any other oppressive structure upheld by people like Sima Taparia.