A brand new reality show, with a spin, debuted on Netflix and hit our screens earlier this week. The eight-part docu-series lifts the lid on the centuries-old tradition of arranged marriage and follows the internationally acclaimed matchmaker, “Sima (Taparia) from Mumbai” as she ‘helps’ families that form India’s upper-class in finding a match for their children.
Just hours after its release, the show has garnered a large following and is trending internationally. It’s also sent social media into a meltdown and when I open Instagram today, it’s a small gold mine of Indian Matchmaking-related memes that get a good few chuckles out of me.
What’s clear however, is that despite its wide following the show has been met with a mixed-reception, with its all-too candid portrayal of the difficult reality of arranged marriages not being to everyone’s taste.
And I’ve been asked by several friends and family alike to watch the show and give my two-pence on it, as someone from within the South Asian community who has insight on the traditional practice of arranged marriage. So I’m here to write about Indian Matchmaking – the good, the bad and the ugly.
As a half-Indian, half-Bengali who is proud of her heritage, let me tell you, there are a lot of positive things about our culture. For instance, my people are very hospitable. They’ll go out of their way for you; come to my house as a guest and I can bet a pretty penny that my Indian Mum, out of custom, will welcome you to our dinner table where she’ll present you with a minimum of eight different dishes she’s made especially for you.
But while hospitality is one thing, certain mentalities and practices that some members of the South Asian community (excluding my Mum and actually all of my immediate family) have when it comes to marriage, are something else altogether. It’s something that, as a South Asian, I take little pride in and don’t want to claim any association with in fact.
Because, if I’m being frank, there’s a lot that’s wrong with the reality of what goes into South Asian matchmaking and in a way, I feel that the production of Indian Matchmaking has aired this community’s dirty laundry out into the open, for all to see.
But before I go into addressing everything that’s bad about Indian Matchmaking, it’s only right that I give you the good. Here it is…
(1) The show served to myth-bust the common misconception that an arranged marriage is akin to a forced marriage.
A lot of the time people conflate the two but what Indian Matchmaking showed us is the reality: that an arranged marriage is just like meeting a potential after being introduced to them by a friend at dinner.
All of the participants (bar Akshay, who was bullied into the process by his Mum) took part in and entered the process of matchmaking voluntarily. And although Indian matchmaking is quite an old tradition, viewers learnt that it was nevertheless a system that appeals to the current generation, millenials, who are entering arranged marriages of their own free-will.
(2) Some of what we saw on the show was so bad that it’s prompted much-needed open discussion amongst our people on everything that made us collectively cringe as a community.
Despite this, in the show’s aftermath, a lot of people were gunning for Executive Producer, Smriti Mundhra and Sima Aunty too for the bitter taste the show left in their mouths.
To these critics I would day that while I agree with you that what we saw wasn’t pleasant, Mundhra, in producing the show, simply held out a mirror and we, as a community, saw our reflection. Likewise, Sima Aunty, for all of her problematic comments, is only a voice-box for all that is wrong within the South Asian community when it comes to marriage. Yes, she said some VERY problematic things but we need to ask ourselves – are we angry at Sima Aunty or is she simply the messenger?
We can’t malign someone or an entire show for doing what they’re meant to: give us an insight into this one element of our culture, marriage.
In short, the wise amongst us will instead of finger-pointing about what we saw on our screens, realise that yes, there’s a lot that’s bad about the Indian matchmaking process but that real change starts with us. In our homes, in our families, with our friends, in this community.
So if the show’s release this week has actually encouraged any of us Asians to sit at home with family and friends and have difficult conversations about the bad and ugly sides of matchmaking, it’s served a good purpose. Because these difficult conversations are the first step to making positive changes amongst ourselves.
Right, now with the good out of the way. Here’s…
Outsiders of the community may have initially thought they were signing up to watch the Great, Big Asian weddings of their fantasies play out.
Regrettably, they couldn’t have been more mistaken. Instead, you got given a real insight into Indian Matchmaking – a system rife with everything that is wrong with the culture’s attitude to marriage.
What’s oh-so bad about this is that for many outsiders of our community, this show might be your only opportunity to glean an insight into our marriage practices. And if this is all you’ve got to go off of, your opinion is going to be skewed.
A question for my readers is: do you think non-Desis gained a better understanding of our culture or did they go away more confused than anything else? Will these confusions give people from outside of our community more reason to stereotype us? Let me know in the comments below or in my DMs @franklyfahmida.
Last but not least, I give you:
Indian Matchmaking gave us a plethora of the ugliest elements involved in the arranged marriage process: you were given a bit of casteism, strong doses of sexism, lots of colourism and even a sprinkle of superstition. (I’m so sorry to the astrology-believers amongst my readers but I can’t take any of you seriously lol. The scene where Sima Aunty goes to the face-reader Astrologist Uncle who predicted the future of people he’d never met, based off of their appearance and the stars alone, had me in fits of laughter and took me out!).
I think the only good thing to come from the superstition involved in the show was the classic comical meme of Sima stating:
The bad bits of Indian Matchmaking were so bad that they made us cringe.
I fall under the category of viewers who hate-watched the show: we didn’t agree with what we were seeing, it cringed us out (immensely) in fact, but it was entertaining and we charged on watching in hopes that it might get better. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
Instead, Sima Aunty went along misguiding, in the name of matchmaking, most of the prospective brides and grooms (and their families) that were sent her way.
Amongst some of her favourite words to the prospective brides and their families were requests for “adjustment” and “compromise” and she was quick to call her independent female clients “stubborn” as they sought to find their matches.
She flat out told Rupam, a single mother and divorcee that her options would be less because she was divorced and made it seem like she was doing Rupam a favour because “I don’t normally take on such clients”. Ankita too, I think was done an injustice – here was an entrepreneur, a self-starter with a brilliant new business being told that she would have to change her very essence in order to be marriage material.
The show perpetuated this idea that one must pick between a fruitful companionship or a fulfilling career and that you can’t have both. That’s such a regressive way of thinking man.
And actually, it’s an ultimatum that is wholly incorrect; I can personally list at least 10 couples (just as I’m sure my readers can) that I know who balance high-flying careers with successful home lives and can disprove that theory instantly with their happy marriages.
I think that’s a fitting note to end on ‘The Ugly’ because that ‘Ugh’ is the resounding sound that left my mouth multiple times throughout the show and it perfectly epitomises my feelings on Indian Matchmaking.
Right, I’m off to go sip a lassi. Catch you on the next blog!