Dear Netflix, Here's Everything Wrong With Indian Matchmaking...
On July 16th, 2020, Netflix released an original series that aimed to touch upon the cultural process of matchmaking. Like countless other Indian families that were built on the promise of arranged marriages, my family and I indulged in the eight-episode arc to draw parallels and discrepancies between my parents’ experience and theirs. Yet, behind the messy breakups, awkward dates, and overbearing mothers, Netflix unintentionally reinforced some of India’s most deep-rooted systemic conflicts upon its viewers such as misogyny, colorism, and ultimately a false portrayal of a culture through subliminal conditioning.
The show reigns in with the introduction of Sima Tapari (referred to as “Sima Auntie”) who has an immense amount of optimism in finding the ideal match for her clients from both India and the United States. The millennial clients, at first reluctant to engage in an arranged marriage. eventually, come around to partake in the cultural process now considered “ancient” or “obsolete”. Although that’s far from true in that over 80% of marriages today in India are arranged. Due to the commonality of arranged marriages in the Indian culture, countless matchmakers like Sima Tapari abuse their power as “life-fixers” in dictating the preferences and lifestyles of their clients, especially those that are women.
Misogyny - “Life is never equal”
There is no shortage of bad-ass, independent women that arise and capture the attention of young
individuals watching (like myself), yet their confidence is shot down as they are nurtured on the act of compromisation. An act that is not relevant to their male counterparts. Taparia repeatedly advises women to adjust their personal preferences after rejecting one or two matches but condones the privileged Indian men that run rampant and have rejected dozens of matches.
From the start, Aparna captured the attention of viewers over the complexity of her character. She coins herself as a fierce attorney that is passionate about her professional life with her personal life coming second to none. Like countless other professional women in the workplace, society has already enforced the responsibilities of home life upon women, and balancing a professional life on top of it makes it almost impossible, yet it is made possible by women like Aparna. Fierce, resilient, and stubborn- all seen as ideal attributes - are considered a weapon to women like Sima Tapari and men that fail to recognize their privilege.
On Episode 6, we meet Ankita, a self-proclaimed entrepreneur that built a fashion company from the bottom up. She is described as “ahead of her time” by her parents but known as “stubborn” to Sima (as you can guess). Fortunately, she isn’t afraid to speak out about these microaggressions that she’s faced on and off the show. Under the management of the show and advice of Tapari, Ankita was sent to a life coach (something that wasn’t made available to the rest of the clients). Similarly, Aparna was told to visit an astrologist to work out her inner “issues” that she supposedly fails to deal with. Evidently, viewers detect that women (like Aparna and Ankita) that don’t conform to the standards of those in authority (Tapari) are sent to have more authority figures enter their lives to encourage a change in their mindsets and perspectives.
Furthermore, when Ankita was being pitched to other matchmakers and clients, she was undermined through her appearances. Tapari describes Ankita as “looks like she’s not photogenic, but she’s smart and she carries well.” Obviously, watching the behind the scenes footage in which an individual points out insecurities about oneself, takes a toll on one’s mental health. And this is exactly what Ankita was faced with post-release of the series. Though she already struggled with body issues prior to going on the show, which she lightly touched upon on the series, being vulnerable in front of such a large audience and dealing with backhanded compliments is an adversity that one can’t begin to grapple with.
Both women have spoken out about their experiences on the show after its air and the ways in which their attitude was affected by the microaggressions that were perpetually evident. In an interview with Mashable, Aparna discussed her interactions with Sima by stating “ I was surprised to hear how she felt about my preferences and my family. I found it quite telling that she was so much more lenient on the men she was matchmaking than on Ankita or I - both independent and successful career women.” Likewise, Ankita continued to bring her open mind in an interview with The News Minute where she says “As fun as it was for many, it was triggering for a lot of people (including me) to watch, as we’ve been through it. I recognize that I have the privilege to express how I feel but many others do not.” She continued by stating “Hopefully that change will come soon with all the conservations and critique that this show has raised.”
Ultimately, women on the receiving end of these regressive comments are faced with the reinforcement and exacerbation of misogyny and its repercussions in our daily lives.
Colorism- “Not too dark, you know, fair-skinned”
In India, colorism is prevalent nearly everywhere. Darker-skinned Indians, especially women, face
discrimination at work, school — even in relationships as it becomes a crucial part of their identity. As seen through the skin lightening industry and its rapid increase in sales over the past decade, households are grooming young girls to see flaws with their natural melanin. They partake in a harmful process that deteriorates their image to conform to society’s standards at young ages. And those that choose to deviate, face the consequences in their professional and personal life by those that execute authority through inappropriate measures.
Evidently, Sima Tapari and certain clients reinforce the notion of colorism.
Conclusions and closings of tv shows or movies tend to be memorable and that’s exactly what we got from Indian Matchmaking. Towards the end of the show, Tapari is seen traveling and promoting her matchmaking business to potential clients. When constructing a biodata for an Indian-American client, the participant made it especially clear that she was looking for someone with a lighter skin tone and therefore confirmed her biases against those with darker skin by asserting that she’s looking for someone who’s “not too dark, you know, fair-skinned.”
It’s important to acknowledge that there’s nothing wrong with having preferences in a potential
relationship, though when those preferences dictate how you see the world and interact with society, an appalling conflict arises. It goes to show that we live in a world in which appearance is meant to show our wealth, our relationship with society, how we embrace our culture, and even one’s story, though this is far from true in that we often fail to recognize everything that exists beyond the scope of the eye.
In India and many parts of the world, lighter skin is associated with a better past, better life, and a better future. Regardless of one’s relationship to skin color, we all hold subliminal biases that we are unconscious of particularly because of society’s ability to accustom individuals to microaggressions such as colorism.
Classism- “This is all real silver. Real emeralds and pearls”
Indian Matchmaking gave us a glimpse of the lavish lifestyles that some have the privilege to engage in.
To start off, it takes a certain amount of wealth to hire a matchmaker like Sima Tapari who prides herself on her ability to match people transnationally. Therefore, eliminating a large portion of the population of those in India and America that don’t have the necessities or privilege to hire someone like Tapari so they settle for someone that is available in their community. Now that our pool is smaller, it’s easier to recognize a pattern between participants, and that's exactly what viewers saw with Pradhyuman and Akshay.
Earlier in this piece, when I mentioned the “privileged Indian men that run rampant and have rejected dozens of matches," I was utterly referring to Pradhyuman and Akshay. They made me question how many more men in India were like them and I hated the possibility that there could be more.
Both men were so far from reality in which it was easier to play along with their narrative rather than attempt to ground them and show them what the real world was really like. They had extravagant and excessive lifestyles filled with designer brands, jewels, fancy cars, houses not meant for two, and an ego complex that made them unbearable to watch. Rather than diversifying their participant selection, Netflix chose two individuals that had such similar morals and upbringings that it was like watching the same person twice.
As a kid, I would rummage through my parent’s wedding pictures and see the coming together of two families in one ceremony, which in my opinion is the most beautiful aspect of the tradition. A part of me hoped to see that conveyed in the show, yet the series removed the cultural process and gave viewers the problematic encounters that they coined as reality.
While I applaud Netflix for their attempt to span borders and break a cultural divide in their content, they ultimately managed to divide and confirm biases among those a part of the Indian culture. I am guilty of often giving the media, celebrities, and society the benefit of the doubt. In believing that they don’t intentionally want to enforce microaggressions upon individuals and that it often happens as an accident or out of habit, which just sheds light on the systemic problems being implemented into our communities that we fail to notice.
In a way, Netflix held a mirror up to us and showed us the regressive society that we call ours. One in which colorism dictates which job we can call ours. One in which women are held on a pedestal to transform their lives to be convenient to their significant others. One in which traditions are taken and reconstructed until they aren’t a tradition anymore.
Recently, Netflix released their newest series that details the cultural process of matchmaking. However, the show has fallen under scrutiny by Indians across the globe as they found issues of colorism, classism, and misogyny that accompany the practice. This article dives into the narrative portrayed by the series and the harmful impacts that it has on its audience.
Pooja is a 15 year old from New Jersey that is passionate about socio-political issues. She hopes to raise awareness about these issues through writing, art, and social media.
Cover photo source: Sonia Saraiya, vanityfair.com