Caution: Spoilers ahead (but I don’t think you’d care if you haven’t seen it till now!)
Trigger Warning: Colourism, ableism, casteism, classism, suicide
When I first saw Indian Matchmaking on my Netflix home screen, I immediately added it to ‘My List.’ I didn’t even question what the plot entailed. What I knew was that I saw people who looked like me—as I was not only a mixed-race Indian but also a Muslim, going through something not commonly shown on mainstream media.
This reflex of mine was shared with other South Asian viewers as well. So when I watched it a fortnight later, I had mixed reactions. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed watching it… but let’s just say a LOT of memories were stirred up for me (and not all were pleasant). Here are my thoughts on Indian Matchmaking.
1. The Importance of Trigger Warnings
Image credit: Twitter @ShriK16
When you come across a dating show, do you expect it to display trigger warnings? Well, I usually don’t, but in this particular case, I think it’s so necessary. Preeti, Akshay Jakhete’s mother, was listing the attributes his potential bride should have. Preeti told Sima Taparia, the matchmaker, that the woman had to be above 5’3 (about 160cm) and “flexible”. Hold up, someone please hold my teh tarik!
To the average Joe, this may sound all right but for some of my friends on the Internet and I, we know that these ‘preferences’ are toxic. As you keep watching, you’d hear a few quips here and there. Like how Aparna much preferred a North Indian—where people are generally fairer, or other worrying ‘opinions’ on skin colour, castes and more.
These so-called preferences drudged back memories I had buried years ago. I was reminded of comments from aunties and uncles who told me that I needed to lose weight or use more Fair & Lovely. So for 40 minutes, there was a distaste in my mouth that I couldn’t shake as all these colourist memories came hurling back.
What most relatives don’t realise is that their skewed notions of beauty have consequences, especially on our self-esteem. Even I’m guilty of passing on a lipstick shade just because it made me look “dark”. I can only hope that if there’s a second season to the show, they’d put some form of a content warning. May it be for colourism, casteism, elitism and more. If not, pull the plug, Netflix!
2. Not All Arranged Marriages Are The Same
A scene from episode 8 / Image credit: Netflix
We know that India is one of the most multiethnic countries out there, so is the rest of Southeast Asia. Yet, Indian Matchmaking seems to wave the privilege card a lot, for the majority of the couples were from generally upper class families.
Yes, cue the applause for Indian Matchmaking using a more modern take on planned matchmaking! But the truth is that arranged marriages can take on so many different forms, even within the same country. It’s safe to say that most of the show’s couples lived very comfortable lives, hence why there’s a running theme of elitism across all the episodes.
But the show glosses over the fact that the majority of arranged marriages are not all adorned with gold and glittering jewellery. Ever heard of a girl getting married out of poverty? Well, it’s safe to say that toxic dowry culture is still rampant in both South Asia and Southeast Asia. While success stories do exist for arranged marriages, many are usually carried out due to financial constraints, poverty or appeasing familial relations.
As if that wasn’t enough pressure, arranged marriages often place women in a sticky position. On one end, there are understanding families who know that marital roles are gender-neutral; that housework and family ordeals are not just the wife’s job but also the husband’s. However, not everyone has caught up to this. Some families still high-key believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, and she should forgo her career when motherhood enters the picture.
3. What’s On-Screen Isn’t Always The Full Story
Pradhyuman Maloo featured on Humans of Bombay / Image credit: Humans of Bombay
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what about a whole nine episodes?
Ever seen tweets of people arguing that the movie adaptation wasn’t the same as the book? Well, that’s because a lot of editing goes into it. The major turn-off though? When the directors frame a person differently than they actually are.
Weeks after the show’s debut, cast members like Aparna talked to Film Companion on how the show edited scenes to advance a certain narrative. She also mentioned how they edited clips to intentionally frame her in a bad light. It wasn’t just her, but other casts like Pradhyuman Maloo and Nadia Jagessar were unfairly treated.
What’s to be learnt here is that as much as we want to flex our opinions whilst things are trending, it’s good to watch anything with a grain of salt. There’s more to things than what meets the eyes y’all!
4. Double Standards Are Too Real
Screenshots of an episode of Indian Matchmaking / Image credit: Netflix
A lot of viewers are doing the most by saying they want to ‘cancel’ Aparna for having ‘controversial’ opinions. However, why isn’t the same being said for the men of the show?
Let me be real with you, a lot of people watched Indian Matchmaking because everyone was talking about Aparna. She’s got a bold set of opinions; she doesn’t like comedy, she didn’t like it when her date talked to the waiter and she stopped seeing a guy because he didn’t know Bolivia has salt flats.
My issue is, nearly all the parents of the male candidates had a long checklist they expected the girls to tick off. However, most men could get by with their opinions without much nitpicking from netizens. Call me salty but it’s the truth. Why is it that when a woman like Aparna is picky about her dating pool, she’s reprimanded for it? However, if a man comes waltzing in with a description of a woman you can honestly only get from a Build-A-Bear (or in this case woman), the world lets it slide?
Women are expected to fill big shoes, both hers and her husband’s. Sure, not all men hide under their mummy’s skirts, but the problem is that too many men are still like that. It’s time to yeet the double standards out before we get another TLC show about it.
5. BUT We Stan The Representation
Image credit: Netflix
Are you an Asian who probably has had a Jackie Chan or Aishwarya Rai reference thrown at you? If you have, then that makes the two of us.
Before 2020, Netflix didn’t carry that many Asian-American shows, much less South or Southeast Asian ones. The marginalisation and under-representation of the Asian community are still rife in Western media.
Despite it all, Indian Matchmaking is still a step in the right direction when it comes to representing strong, modern South Asian women, as well as the double standards that are still so strong in Asian communities. Newsflash: Asian women don’t want to give in anymore!
The show also helps forge a path for shows depicting other regions or cultures to be aired on mass channels. It just hits differently when people are FINALLY talking about your culture and customs. Though it may not be all good, the fact that we finally get to see strong independent South Asian women on the big screen (or our phone screens, in this case) just feels so… good.
Asian storylines are finally getting somewhere, instead of us watching the same recycled Caucasian protagonists.
Progress Isn’t Perfect
Image credit: Netflix
What’s to learn from this though, is that ultimately we want more representation and it’s about time we got it!
Indian Matchmaking wasn’t perfect, but it was at least a step in seeing more Asian representation on big platforms like Netflix. Even though I do think the show could have come in with a more nuanced approach to discussing issues like race, colourism and class differences, it still reflected the lived realities of many Asian millennials.
The fact is that the concept of arranged marriage IS a touchy subject and there are so many aspects to the topic that the show didn’t even touch, but at least seeing them try to cover some aspects was a step in the right direction.