Indian Matchmaking: Netflix’s ‘divisive’ dating show causes storm
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Coronavirus: How Covid has changed the ‘big fat Indian wedding’. India’s richest family caps year of big fat weddings. A new Netflix show, Indian Matchmaking, has created a huge buzz in India, but many can’t seem to agree if it is regressive and cringe-worthy or honest and realistic, writes the BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi. The eight-part docuseries features elite Indian matchmaker Sima Taparia as she goes about trying to find suitable matches for her wealthy clients in India and the US. In the series, she’s seen jet-setting around Delhi, Mumbai and several American cities, meeting prospective brides and grooms to find out what they are looking for in a life partner.
Since its release nearly two weeks back, Indian Matchmaking has raced to the top of the charts for Netflix in India. It has also become a massive social phenomenon. Hundreds of memes and jokes have been shared on social media: some say they are loving it, some say they are hating it, some say they are “hate-watching” it, but it seems almost everyone is watching it. The in-your-face misogyny, casteism and colourism on display have caused much outrage, but also inspired many to introspection.
Ms Taparia, who’s in her 50s and like a genial “aunty” to her clients, takes us through living rooms that resemble lobbies of posh hotels and custom-made closets filled with dozens of shoes and hundreds of items of clothing. That, though, is mostly with her Indian-American clients – where men and women in their 30s have tried Tinder, Bumble and other dating apps and want to give traditional matchmaking a chance to see if it helps them find love. The conversations back home in most cases happen with the parents because, as Ms Taparia says, “in India, marriages are between two families, and the families have their reputations and millions of dollars at stake so parents guide their children”.
As we progress through the episodes, it’s obvious it’s much more than just guidance. It’s the parents, mostly mothers of young men, who are in charge, insisting on a “tall and fair bride” from a “good family” and their own caste.
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WATCH | Matchmaking site removes skin tone filter: to be done about what she called the South Asian community’s bias against skin colour.
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Indian Matchmaking: The ‘cringe-worthy’ Netflix show that is a huge hit
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Matchmaking is the process of matching two or more people together, usually for the purpose of marriage , but the word is also used in the context of sporting events such as boxing, in business, in online video games and in pairing organ donors. In some cultures, the role of the matchmaker was and is quite professionalised.
The Ashkenazi Jewish shadchan , or the Hindu astrologer , were often thought to be essential advisors and also helped in finding right spouses as they had links and a relation of good faith with the families.
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Sima Taparia of ‘Indian Matchmaking’ on family dynamics, ghosting and failed matches
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Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking highlights a very big problem with South Asian culture
When Meghan Nagpal decided to take her chances at finding love by signing up for a popular matchmaking website, she never expected to be asked to describe her skin tone — let alone the skin tone she would find desirable in a partner. This time, after all the worldwide anti-racism protests inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, her discomfort turned to outrage.
Discrimination within communities of colour.
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Lee began connecting her colleagues together when she thought there was a good match. So she decided to take her matchmaking hobby to the next level and turn it into a paid service within the Chinese community in Flushing. In , when there were only a few players in the business, she began working full-time as a matchmaker. Although her youngest son works in computer maintenance and they have many idle computers at home, she has never thought of using one to run her business.
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Her passive-aggressiveness aside, the looks of quiet judgement have made her a meme star and the series a hit. Most Pakistanis are familiar with the trolley routine where a girl brings tea for a prospective groom and his family, but that is not what happens on this show. Instead, the couples are shown bio-datas and asked to go on dates at restaurants and other public places to see if there is enough connection to take the matter further.
While this may seem more open than the more chaperoned Pakistani style of matrimony, the family control and sky-high expectations are strikingly similar. One of Taparia’s clients is a Houston-based lawyer named Aparna, who comes across as a perfectionist, one who needs her life partner to know that the country of Bolivia has salt flats because she is fond of travelling. Meanwhile Akshay, a traditional young man from a wealthy family who wants someone just like his mother —has turned down over 70 young women on the basis of their photographs alone— is not so thoroughly examined.
For many, though Indian Matchmaking has opened up a space for discussion and introspection, but finding a spouse is too often reduced to a stark algorithm of materialistic requirements. But men do not escape judgment entirely in this show either; another wealthy young bachelor is Pradhyuman, a jewellery designer from Mumbai, who has rejected even more young women, plus at last count who also faced criticism. His self-absorption and lack of connectivity with any of the women he was matched with was pretty evident.
Similarly, Akshay may not have been criticised by Taparia but many on social media pointed out he was very immature and incapable of thinking independently of his mother. On the other end of the spectrum, we saw the more flexible Nadia, who despite her friendly, sweet personality and ability to like every person she was matched with was still unable to find commitment.
So, despite the veneer of modernity, the tradition of different standards for men and women and all the ancient prejudices end up being reinforced on the show. I will repeat the word wedding because the show had very little to do with marriage, which is a commitment to make a life with someone.