So there’s this new show that’s trending numero uno on Netflix and taking the world by storm right now. The show, called Indian Matchmaking, is a wedding and romantic reality show, and, as you might have put two and two by now, it explores the concept of arranged marriages in India.
Over the weekend, the show became a matter of major contention among my friend group. Especially so because most of us are in the age group of 27-33 years old, which basically translates to “the clock is ticking and better get married soon or you’ll forever be alone” in India. Well, you know the drill! But there’s more.
The show follows matchmaker Sima Taparia (or Sima from Mumbai’ as she calls herself) while she travels across Indian and the US, finding “suitable” matches for her clients. And while you expect a Netflix docu-series to have a little bit of political correctness, the show surprises you with arguments so tone-deaf that you won't be able to believe you actually heard them in 2020, and that too on camera.
The show legit worships the age-old trope of 'slim, fair, educated' bride as uber-rich mothers go looking for these girls with the dreams of slapping a 'my home, my rules' manual in their pretty faces the instant they get bahufied. Also, contain your shock if you hear Sima aunty constantly repudiating educated, smart women for being too “strong-headed.” There are well-educated men being apprehensive about marrying career-oriented women because ‘who’ll take care of the children if they go out and work like a man?’
Long things short, the shock value here is high and not in a good sort of way. It will especially rub on you in case you have been of the “marriageable age” for some time and have seen some real shit by now. Now, here’s the deal: I for one can name at least five people who kept talking about how much they hated this problematic show and yet binge-watched the damn thing, start to finish, including myself. So what’s happening here? Why are we hate-watching this show if it’s so problematic?
Perhaps 'coz it lays bare a bitter truth. For someone who has legit heard “shaadi kitni age mein karoge” to “humein toh bas ek car dede...dowry nahi, gift hai” right on her face, the show brings to me immense peace despite its subject matter. I find it extremely watchable simply for the reason that it’s so wrong that it’s right. How so, you ask? Scroll through.
It is almost revolting and yet so relatable when rishta aunty Sima casually imposes herself on the person she is finding a match for. She doesn’t flinch even a tad bit before suggesting “compromise” as the foolproof recipe for an ideal marriage in the same breath as she goes calling an educated, self-assured woman "difficult" to find a match for. Well, love it or hate it, this is the truth of Indian arrange marriage scene. For if you have a mediator, you also have unsolicited comments and "suggestions." They go to the extent of telling you that 'it doesn't matter if you spent the last 20 years of your life making yourself. You might have to reprogram yourself if you wanna get married. This is exactly how Ankita (one of Sima's clients) is told off by Sima's associate during a random chat.
I was once asked to stop being "so feminist" by the mediator (in my case, a relative) and thus I can relate hard!
Throughout the show, you'd come across a smattering of ideas like parents looking for "slim, trim, and educated" girls. Also, the ideal man for Aparna (another one of Sima's clients), a well-educated, ambitious, no-nonsense woman is described to be someone who is okay being slapped by his wife, basically someone who is okay with domestic violence. You go a little ahead and horoscopes are declared the insurance for a happily married life.
I mean for someone who is a "double manglik" I cannot start telling how much bullshit I have been through because of these horoscopes (more like horror-scopes!). Also, I remember an uncle casually inquiring my dad about my body weight within five minutes of talking to him for the first time. He was duly blocked but boy, it was weird AF!
Okay, don't get me wrong here, moms are amazing. But I have also had first-hand experience with the kind of narcissistic moms who legit checked all the points of the evil mom in law trope, like seriously. Akshay's (Sima's client) mom in the show is losing her sleep because while her first son was married by 23, the younger one is 25 and still unmarried. She promptly blames all her health issues on him, casually throwing ideas like "my BP is this high because you aren't getting married!" And while one might brush it off saying but this is just a show, I need to tell you that I have seen this, I have seen things worse than this. I have seen a mother locking her son outside the house because he didn't seek her "permission" before his pre-wedding photoshoot.
Akshay's mom casually dictates ludicrous demands around the house. She clearly tells Akshay that he has to get married within a year and his elder brother and sister-in-law should have a baby immediately after that. She also seems to be having an inundating set of rules that the future bahu would have to follow come what may.
One of my best friends has a mother-in-law who hasn't allowed her to go out of the house all by herself in the past three years of married life and all I am saying is that this legit happens in India. There still exist prospective mothers-in-law who think of their bahus as their damn properties and yes, this is as scary as it sounds.
All through the length of the show, while Sima aunty is real casual about men rejecting more than 100 rishtas each, she has different rules if the client is a woman who gets to see only one rishta at a time. Rich, entitled men rejecting rishtas just like that is considered super chill while women are scrutinised and branded "difficult" and "fickle-minded" for every man that they reject.
Akshay from the show (who has legit destroyed the market for every other Akshay out there if you ask me and my brother who happens to have the Godforsaken name) is really confused about what he seeks in a girl, does not know what to talk about, is okay with marrying someone "just like his mom," and simply marrying because of the pressure. Then there's Padhyuman (Sima's client) who is simply rejecting women even without talking to them. And while the two of these might not say this, they both melt considerably upon meeting model-like women, to suggest that beauty is after all the only criterion that really matters. Oh, and as the show suggests, it can be easily fulfilled given you are rich enough.
These rishta aunties as they easily justify these rich men rejecting 100s of rishtas for no particular reason of course do not understand the implications that it can have on someone who has been rejected. Why can't these men make up their mind, decide what they exactly want and then look for a match?
Throughout the show, women are constantly shown to be anxious about the idea of "right age" whereas the subject is not at all touched in the case of men (well, accept Akshay who is 25!) Again, while the matchmakers make Ankita meet a divorcee without even informing her about his past, Sima point-blank tells Rupam (Sima's client who is a single mother) that she would have "very limited" options because she is a divorcee.
Sima then later goes on saying that she generally does not take cases of divorced mothers. Having seen a very dear cousin going through the process and the unbearable humiliation, I cannot even begin to tell how freaking problematic it happens to be. And yet it's true, the real face of how these conversations are navigated in the most educated on the Indian households.
Rest assured, might I suggest discussing the show with your prospective partner's family next time you are up for a rishta meeting? The stakes would be high, you have been warned.
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