Indian Matchmaking - An article
Indian Matchmaking is a Netflix show that premiered around mid-July 2020. This show is somewhat of a documentary following the work of a popular matchmaker from Mumbai referred to as "Sima Aunty", as she attempts to match her affluent Indian and even Indo-American clients with a diverse range of people for an arranged marriage.
The clients' point of view might be considered just fun to watch as the show covers a multitude of characters they meet when they select the people out of their biodatas - an ambitious lawyer Aparna, a sweetheart Counselor Vyasar, a superficial jeweler Pradhyuman, an adorable wedding planner Nadia, a Mama's boy Akshay, a strong feminist Ankita and a divorcée Mother Rupam, but when it comes down to Sima Aunty and her matchmaking process, fun occupies a back seat.
If I were to be totally candid, the show paints quite an accurate picture of how a large section of the Indian society (popularly referred to by netizens as the boomer generation) actually functions during the long-drawn process of arranging a marriage. To some extent, the character of Sima Aunty was akin to that one judgmental relative that exists in every family; the one who unnecessarily forces their opinions on everything. The same way most of these people do not even realise when they're being regressive in real life, Sima Aunty's problematic views are portrayed in the show very casually.
And. It. Is. Messed. Up.
However, the controversy revolving the show doesn't end with Sima Aunty's opinions, they merely begin there. The show gives us a glimpse with extreme subtlety into a way of thinking which is so far established into people's minds that even the rich "elite" citizens from within and outside our country still conform to it.
It not only normalizes but even glorifies deeply ingrained ideas of colorism, classism, casteism, and some aspects of sexism present within the Indian mentality then covering up for it with a facade of documents portraying happily married old couples who've been through a similar type of arrangement in the past.
What may be even more vexing about the show is that it refuses to show the uglier side of Indian marriages, as there are no mention of dowry practises which definitely still prevails in today’s society, nor did it tackle the role of arranged marriages in maintaining casteism. The show neither justifies the concept of arranged marriages and what makes them work, and nor does it show any of the clients working their matches up to a wedding, hence leaving the fundamental question in every viewer's mind-
what does the show aim to prove?
Regardless of what it aimed to show, there are still quite a few problematic views that ought to be pointed out and they're so blatantly obvious that we can literally just pick out lines from the show to elaborate on them.
"The two families have their reputation and millions of dollars at stake."
And just like that, Sima Aunty managed to reduce the entire concept of spending the rest of your life with someone in order to start a family with them and be happy in the process, into a matter of reputation and a grand layout of family wealth. * slow claps*
What's worse is that a lot of Indians view marriage the exact same way as it was described in that sentence. They feel obligated to marry only within their own caste and social class driven by the fear of facing ridicule from their own friends and family in failing to do so. It could've been a lot better if Sima Aunty had tried to portray marriage as a lot more than just succumbing to the pressure that society puts on an unmarried adult and their family, instead of promoting such superficial ideas.
"The girl should be flexible. "
This dialogue has been repeated so often throughout the entire show by Sima Aunty herself but to be fair she asks both sides to be ready for compromise. But when Akshay's controlling mother says it, it isn't as simple as it sounds. It implies in a subtle Indian way that the woman should be willing to make enormous changes in her lifestyle and compromise on quite a lot of things- including her career, in order to keep her in-laws and her husband happy.
Finding someone who does that of their own will is a different case, but promoting the idea that such an expectation is okay to have is entirely wrong, yet the show does not refute it at all.
A woman shouldn't have to throw away everything she built in her life in order to make her marriage work. People have got to raise better sons that are as supportive of their wives as their wives would be of them, and not put the onus of compromise only on women.
“Indians are scared of bahus who are lawyers."
This was probably the least offensive thing that was said in regards to Aparna, and it was just a subtle road Sima Aunty took to let her client know that her options were limited, but the reasons which she never mentioned were indirectly implied when she made comments on Aparna's age or her busy profession, and talked about her being too stubborn, even going as far as to call her unstable on camera for not being "flexible" enough when she rejected a man for being unambitious. It hinted at a class of sexism that we're so used to seeing that we probably do not even identify it sometimes.
It may be a fact that sometimes people get intimidated by opinionated, picky women like Aparna who know what they want and don't settle for less, but shouldn't one think that as a matchmaker, Sima Aunty's job is not to pass such comments and find someone that fits their criteria?
"Tall, slim, trim and fair."
Every time Sima Aunty is shown selecting a prospective wife for her male clients, she inevitably describes the girl as being a perfect match for him because "She's tall, slim, trim and fair."
First of all, bringing down a woman's entire desirability to just her looks is a completely degrading mindset. *Cough* Pradhyuman and his 'they're not attractive enough' reasons. Secondly, it sets major body image issues for anyone that gets rejected just on the basis of their height, weight, figure, and skin colour. And last but not the very least, it’s racist.
"Marriages are breaking like biscuits.”
Marriage is a contract, divorce is a dissolution of said contract. Factually, only 1% of Indian marriages end up in divorce. But sure, Sima Aunty said it so it must be right, right?
Even so, this does not mean that Indians are lucky in life. Marriage is treated as a sacred bond according to Indian tradition. The idea was born out of Hindu beliefs that said bond is set for seven lives. As such, a majority of our country holds on to this belief even when they are stuck in unhappy or abusive marriages. Moreover, most of these people are conditioned to put their family's reputation before their own happiness. Add that to the fact that women in our country are still not able to speak up for themselves against their oppressive husbands or have the capacity to support themselves financially, makes it nearly impossible for them to actually file for a divorce. And the ones who do have to go through really long legal processes and face immense pressure with very little support, unless they happen to be privileged.
To downplay the problems that lead to a divorce with a statement like that is appalling. It only leads to further stigmatization of divorce, hence making it harder to break down a morally wrong cultural norm that shames divorcées for their personal life decisions.
"Normally if it is a divorcée case, I don't even take it. Especially if there's a child."
You might think it is a personal preference for Sima Aunty's profession, as it is hard to find someone willing to marry a divorcée, with a child. But the very fact that the case is as such, is a deeply problematic issue, don't you think?
Maybe the show could have addressed the stigma around divorce and deconstructed it instead of asserting it even further.
Hopefully, as the world is changing, these norms will change for the better too. As many problematic statements as this show presented, an equal amount of controversy was created by the viewers. Indian Matchmaking held up a mirror to the audience and they simply cringed at it, which is a really good sign.
This show is already topping the charts in Netflix India. While there is an audience that finds it cringeworthy and are hate-watching it, there are people who love the show too, as having lived through this process has made it all too relatable. But on a side note, Netflix has a huge reach and problematic shows like this probably do not deserve the platform, and now that it is here, it would be best to treat it as something to reflect and introspect upon.