Netflix’s eight-part show Indian Matchmaking has divided the audience in the country. It is being called “cringe-worthy” and also being celebrated as a “cultural phenomenon”, all at once. And that is a hallmark of great art.
It is not the first time independent filmmaker Smriti Mundhra has examined the complex structure of India’s wedding system, which continues to remain the most effective institution till date to regulate young people’s sex life and reinforce patriarchal beliefs over and over again. The Oscar-nominated director had documented the struggles and demanding process of marriage, and the “adjustments and compromises” expected to be made by a woman in her 2017 documentary A Suitable Girl.
A Suitable Girl followed the stories of three women from different backgrounds. One of the subjects was Ritu. The then 25-year-old financial professional was under immense pressure to get married because her parents were getting tired of answering people’s question: when is your daughter’s wedding? Now, it is a cliche question that has for ages put undue pressure on young people. But, it carries a lot of emotional value for Ritu’s parents because her mother is a successful alliance consultant or an arranged marriage matchmaker.
Yes, Ritu’s mother is India’s new pop culture sensation, Sima Taparia (from Mumbai). A Suitable Girl captures a very different phase in Sima’s life. Sima’s usual judgemental face is overpowered by her anxiety over her daughter, who is not giving in to the pressure and agreeing to marry on the whims of her parents. Interestingly, we find the mirror reflection of Sima in A Suitable Girl in the form of Akshay’s doting mother Preeti in Indian Matchmaking.
The whole success of Indian Matchmaking can be attributed to the way Smriti shapes the narrative around her subjects. And it also sheds light on the growing popularity of the arranged-marriage culture among Indian-Americans. In India, the marriage is all about preserving the family’s wealth and legacy. But, for second-generation Indian immigrants in the United States, it is a promising method to meet potential partners, who are serious about getting married. However, the social, personal and cultural dynamics that force Indians into the purview of marriage remains the same both at home and abroad.
Amid all the drama, Smriti Mundhra also manages to find inspiring stories like Rupam, whose divorcee status and child from her first marriage are deemed as a liability. It brings great joy when she finds a man of her interest on her own with the help of Bumble, no less, thus denying the likes of Sima the pleasures of passing further judgement on her self-worth.
A Suitable Girl did not ignite the conversation around our tradition of arranged marriage like Indian Matchmaking did. Probably, it is because of the indie-nature of the documentary, which is also heavy on emotions.
Smriti, however, has taken a very mainstream approach to narrating the pains and challenges faced by the present generation in Indian Matchmaking. The romantic-comedy treatment to the reality show makes it an enjoyable watch. While the show, indeed, tickles your funny bone, it also gives ample pauses to reflect on the emotional toll that the whole arranged marriage process takes on the people involved in it.
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