Indian Matchmaking, Netflix’s new show follows Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia around the world as she ‘finds’ prospective partners for Indian and Indian-origin men and women. The show has received much criticism for glorifying arranged marriages — a tradition that feeds off regressive stereotypes about genders, caste and class.
What follows is Taparia reducing candidates to a bunch of basic attributes and weighing their eligibility to find a that she considers to be a ‘good match’. While the challenges of single-hood resonated with a lot of privileged, mostly savarna Indian women and some men, it was pointed out that the labelling and sorting process of humans involved in the show glorifies deeply regressive traditions Indian women have fought hard against, and some are still unable to stand up to.
Several Dalit writers and activists pointed out that the outrage over Indian Matchmaking from dominant caste circles revealed a deep lack of selfwareness as their own social interactions were also deeply rooted in caste, which relentlessly otherises oppressed castes.
At the centre of the show, are regular people struggling to finding a partner they really wanted to be with on a long term basis. HuffPost India reached out over email to Vyasar Mamta Ganesan, a 27-year-old high school college counsellor at Austin, Texas to understand how the process panned out for them and also how the people on the show responded to the allegations of stereotyping and regressiveness.
We have also reached out to some of the women contestants and the makers, whose responses will be published once and if they get back.
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Singlehood, in the broad framework of Indian/diaspora culture is often constructed as an embarrassment of sorts. As someone who has battled that feeling myself, I was curious to know what apprehensions you may have had, to live out this experience in front of a camera, knowing it will be consumed by millions of people.
It’s a well-held fact in Indian society, that marriage is the most important part of a person’s life. Sometimes, it seems like the event itself is more important to certain parties than the actual married life. But for those who haven’t been married, there is a strong feeling of personal failing. Think about it ― it’s not just about your friends, your community, everyone you know getting hitched, it’s about how marriage is linked to a notion of success and upward mobility. This lets people conflate their feelings about marriage with their feelings about success. And no one, especially not the young, career-conscious Indian, wants to identify as a failure.
I’m not going to lie and say it was easy to open up about what it’s like to be single. Even if my default response is to be self-deprecating and make jokes at my own expense, I had my heart broken a few years back. I ultimately became a better person because of it, but I had to go through a lot to get there. Ultimately, what I had to find out was how vulnerable I could get. I wasn’t afraid of the cameras, I’ve spent a lot of time around them in various capacities. But I was afraid of what it looked like to keep sharing, to keep twisting the can opener until all my truths popped out.
Were you familiar with the other participants and their stories before the show released?
I had never met any of the other participants or heard their stories before the release of the show. One of my cousins mentioned, while we were watching, she recognised Nadia from a dance event in New Jersey, but that’s about it.
What did you feel about the show, and Sima in particular, after the you watched it? Say for example when she tells Rupam that since she is divorced with a kid, her options are few and she must compromise?
It was extremely interesting to see how Sima’s interactions with the other clients, especially the women, differed from my experience with her. Women in Indian culture are constantly told they should have to adjust, make changes to seem more appealing to a potential match. It happened with Geeta and Ankita, certainly, in a rather distressing encounter. But it was also heartbreaking to see Rupam being told her chances were so poor. I really loved her story, and shed more than a few tears watching her.
Frankly, I think all of the women on the show were fantastic, amazing individuals with a lot to offer. I would have been happy to have been matched with any of them, take them around Austin and have them meet my family. I don’t think any woman deserves to be told she has to compromise. It should always be her own decision, what changes she wants to make or not. Besides, men are trash.
What did you feel about the binaries and stereotypes that Sima fell back on to do her work, and the show is somewhat uncritical of? Like her insistence that ‘fair, slim, trim’ single and ‘young’ people are likely to have many options?
One of the subtextual layers the show brings up is this notion that if you’re working with a matchmaker, it’s because there’s something wrong with you or your family. I’ve never met another Indian who’s worked with a matchmaker. The implication is that a standard arranged marriage is easy, and preferable. But the truth is that these people who work with matchmakers aren’t problematic Indians, they’re EXEMPLARY Indians. Ankita is a massive success with her fashion line, Aparna has her travel, I’ve got my delightful kiddoes, and people think there’s something wrong with us?
One of the many criticisms against the show is that it packages the parochial orthodoxies of Indian societies without really critiquing them for the amusement of White or say non-brown people. As someone whose life and family has been a part of this narrative which is being called out, what do you feel about it?
To be honest, this is something I’m struggling with. I’m happy to see the show is so successful, but I fear that many Americans and non-Indian people will see this as a simulacrum of Indian society as a whole. Indian society is in the midst of a fairly massive upheaval, across the board.
Women’s rights, LGBQT rights, caste laws ― all of these are in a massive moment of flux. And in the middle of all of this, Indian Matchmaking appears, to some, as a callous, lighthearted look at one of the worst offenders. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have been a part of the production, and I’m happy to have met people whom otherwise I never would have. But it would be ignorant of me to suggest that the show comes wholly without stigma.
To those who want to criticise the show, I encourage you to continue to do so. It’s how we move the conversation forward, and how real change is made. But remember, too, this show is also a celebration of many, many things. Think about the couples in the opening sequences, sharing their stories. There is value in celebrating and critiquing, in both hands. Be mindful of that.
You mentioned: “It’s been interesting and revelatory to reflect on my own participation in that process, and how complicit I am in perpetuating these regressive norms.”. That the whole process of Indian matchmaking and even alliances done without a matchmaker over say matrimonial websites, is deeply rooted in caste ―- it is not something that is unknown to any Indian. Taparia and the nature of her business both feed and mine this narrative of oppression. The show sort of romance washes the whole thing and presents it as a curiosity rather unquestioningly. Now that you have been reflecting on it, do you think it should have been vocally critical of it and if so, what are the ways they could have done it?
We all have a lot of work to do, unpacking our own prejudices, reflecting on injustice, and fighting for a better world. It is important work, but also exhausting work. The show aired at a time when these issues are at a fever pitch (not to say it would have been better received later or would have sparked less controversy, just remarking on the current moment), and has become part of the larger conversation. I love that.
I think the audience has a responsibility to critique these shows, to demand more changes, to fight for a better world. And similarly, I think the show could have addressed these issues more aggressively, absolutely. I would have loved to see that. If there’s a season two, I hope there’s a chance for addressing them there as well.
At the end of the day, it’s not my call. That duty lies in the hands of producers, network execs, Netflix higher-ups, etc. I hope they are paying attention to what people are saying. The world is changing out there.
I want to go back to the women ― lawyers and businesswomen and such successful individuals — who were made to go to astrologers etc to figure out their lives and told they were ‘negative’. Aparna for example was constantly told she was ‘negative’. It was a dehumanising experience to even watch. What do you feel about the show being entirely uncritical of that?
It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories and to watch these incredible women be treated this way. At the same time, I am hardly surprised. Women have been getting the short end of the stick for generations. But I’m not sure the show is entirely letting it slide away without comment. Ankita fights back against both matchmakers, and the show certainly presents her as beautiful, resilient and talented. They show how she thrives even outside of the matchmaking arena. Aparna goes through the process and similarly, is shown as sarcastic, witty, and willing to learn and grow.
The show allows for the audience to draw their own conclusions, to be led through the participants’ journeys and experience their world for themselves. In sharing their stories, many of the women commented on how hard it has been, how much of a struggle they’ve had.
I think everyone watching the show is allowed to have their own opinion of it and the people it presents. I think it’s become part of so many larger conversations across many issues. And that’s a good thing. If people feel the show is uncritical, they should address that. If people feel the show is too critical, they should speak to that. Because we’re all starting to realize the value of having these tough conversations. And we need to keep having them.
Honestly, how comfortable were you discussing what you are looking for in a partner with Sima Taparia?
It was hard to talk to Sima about what I was looking for in a partner. That scene was the first time I’d ever met her, and it took some getting used to, learning how to talk to her about my criteria. Frankly, I wasn’t certain what criteria I even had ― my almost immediate response to her questions was, “What is anyone really looking for? Just find me someone who’ll laugh at my jokes.”
I don’t even talk to my family that much about my love life, or what kind of person I want to marry. They know me well enough and trust me enough to let me do things on my own, something I feel really grateful for.
Did you get your family involved, have the conversation with them about the show? How did they take it the first time you proposed something like this?
My family was very excited to get involved. We love a good wedding, and the prospect of being on TV is exciting, of course. They were nervous about what might be shared, what I would talk about, and what they even felt comfortable talking about. But my family is and has always been supportive, willing to try new things, and take big risks. None of us had ever worked with a matchmaker before, even if all of my aunts and uncles had some form of arranged marriage. But they were excited to try, to see if it could work for me. It’s one of the things I love best about them ― how far they’ll be willing to go to support each other.
The shows on ‘dating’ that we have consumed as a part of available pop culture usually sexualise the participants to a point they are unrecognisable as real people. As a result, they don’t elicit strong reactions from viewers. But with this, did you realise there was a real possibility that you’d face far more and deeper scrutiny from absolute strangers?
Honestly, I had no idea how big things would get, or how many people would be looking so deeply into my love life. It’s been a bit exhilarating, though, to have that much interest from so many parties. In these trying times, the fans of the show have been a fun form of human connection, and it’s been great making jokes with them, listening to their experiences watching the show, and just watching them rant on Twitter. Part of this, again, comes back to just being real, and the producers wanting the show to be as real as possible. It makes people feel more comfortable approaching you, because they think they’ve gotten to know the real you through the show.
And now that the show is out and become quite popular, what has been your experience? Praise? Criticism? Loss of privacy?
It hasn’t been all that long since the show came out, but I keep seeing positive messages from all over the world, admiring comments about my life experience, and the endless slew of too-thirsty DMs. There are a lot of critics, too, calling out the show on what I think are very real and very problematic issues like colorism, casteism and other discriminatory practices endemic to matchmaking. It’s been interesting and revelatory to reflect on my own participation on that process, and how complicit I am in perpetuating these regressive norms.
Dating, the highs and the disappointments, are all very personal. Did you ever feel claustrophobic having to do this in front of a camera, including having crucial conversations like ending a relationship? You couldn’t have been used to it...
I started making horror movies with my friends when I was 16, so I actually was very used to it! Being on camera is a lot like being on the stage, and I have been a theatre kid since I was old enough to walk. I tried to furnish as much enthusiasm and ease with my family and the matches I met, to help them feel safe and comfortable on camera, too.
Taparia sai that Manisha had an issue with your earnings. How did it feel for it to be discussed and scrutinised on camera, for random strangers to watch?
It was a very personal thing, to watch how people struggle to find connection and ultimately decide they have too many differences to truly make a thing work. With Manisha and I, those differences definitely boiled down to our money and how we spend it, and how we make choices with our earnings. It wasn’t hard to watch, though. It was real, and it was a mutual decision between Manisha and myself to call it quits. As I said on the show, we found a natural stopping point had arrived.
Your mother’s story is fascinating― how much convincing did it take to make her appear on it?
My mother is a fascinating person, and still more fascinating that she was willing to appear on camera at all! She’s never been shy, to be sure, but I don’t think she fully grasped the scope of what she agreed to until she saw the army of camera people, producers and production assistants camped out in my garage. Still, I know she had a good time and enjoyed herself in the process.
The first thing that struck me about Indian Matchmaking is that it’s about regular people ― it’s no Bachelor, most of the people seemingly don’t look like they are looking to find work in the showbiz through it. So what made you agree to this/get you interested?
When I first heard about the show, I had a hard time imagining what it would be like. That feeling stayed through the filming, the post-production, and even during my first watch of the show when it aired on the 16th. But what consistently interests me about the show is how unapologetically real it is. It doesn’t hold any illusions about matchmaking, and presents it baldly and barefacedly through Sima, the veteran matchmaker. The people who participate, they have no interests other than just being real. The entirety of the production wasn’t focused on getting the participants to say a magic phrase or pushing the couples to make things work, it was all about “whatever happens, happens.” And that’s something special.