At one point, Sima Taparia, the matchmaker around whom Netflix’s latest show ‘Indian Matchmaking’ revolves, declares that in India families don’t want a lawyer as a potential bride when they are going for an arranged marriage. While it is a regressive thought, and not the only one such in the show, Taparia shines light on a phenomenon quite prevalent across the social strata in India. I’ve had female lawyer friends who have been asked by potential mother-in-laws whether they will be as argumentative at home as they are in courts, heard of girls being made to quit law because otherwise finding an arranged match would be impossible.
So yes, while ‘Indian Matchmaking’ might be a reality TV cringefest, many of the ideas expressed around ‘arranged’ marriage are very much alive and real. Yes, it does try to present ‘arranged’ marriage as some sort of modern-yet-traditional version of Tinder. Except the algorithm is decided by Taparia, the globe-trotting successful matchmaker from Mumbai. Of course, she is aided by her face reader, astrologer, and at times life coach.
But the Netflix show ends up glorifying all that is wrong with how Indians view the institution of marriage, often without context. A persistent theme throughout the show is that someone has to compromise when it comes to marriage, and inevitably that’s the woman. The show is a reminder that education, financial freedom, none of it has changed the central idea that in a marriage, a woman is the one who needs to be ‘flexible’. For me, what stood out was how the show deals with three female clients of Sima Taparia.
There’s the treatment of Aparna’s character in the show, one of the first clients we are introduced to when the show opens. She is made to appear as obnoxious because she is sure of what she wants, a woman who is ambitious and is unwilling to compromise on the qualities she wants in a partner. And that leaves Sima aunty feeling very tired, and positively hating Aparna’s ‘negativity’. Plus she is above 30. Oh, and a lawyer too. All of which as Simaji reminds us means fewer options for Aparna.
Then there’s Rupam, who is divorced and has a daughter. She too is reminded that her options in arranged matchmaking are limited because of the above two conditions. Thankfully, she finds someone on her own, thanks to a dating app. If one were keeping score, it would be modern dating algorithms 1, Sima Aunty- 0.
Ankita from Delhi is another client of Sima, one who has successfully set up her own business and is doing well financially and doesn’t want someone from a traditional family. She is made to meet another matchmaker Geeta. The reason Sima ji gets Geeta to meet Ankita is because she’s supposedly the ‘more liberal’ one. But before you get excited hold on. Geeta tells Ankita in a cavalier tone that marriage is a compromise. By the woman. Thankfully, Ankita chooses to stick with her business and career.
Finally, there’s one more character who stands out. That’s Preeti Aunty, who embodies the definition of a mother-in-law straight from an Indian soap-opera. She wants a bahu who is ‘flexible’, which is a code for someone who will be willing to follow her rules. And it looks like she will have quite a few of those once she does find bahu number two.
In contrast, for the men, it seems like the options are limitless. There’s no negativity even though two of Sima’s male clients keep on rejecting potential matches. There’s Pradhyuman who is thirty (mind you reaching that age has not made him any less viable). While he has rejected 100’s of girls that Sima ji has so dedicatedly found for him, she sees no need to label him as negative. The potential girls all have to be slim, trim and smart and good-looking, because of course men shouldn’t expect to compromise on their choices.
And there’s Akshay, Preety’s son, who also keeps rejecting potential matches. At one point in the show, while meeting with a potential match, he whines about who will look after the kids and the house if the woman is working. He is also looking for someone who is exactly like his mom.
Overall, Indian matchmaking is yet another reminder that when it comes to arranged marriages, preferences are really a sham. At one point in the show, Taparia says kids have all the freedom in India to choose now, she’s also expressing a regret that in fact there’s too much freedom. A freedom that perhaps our parents’ generation did not have. That perhaps it was easier when parents chose.
Of course, we know this is far from the truth. Caste, colour, class all remain crucial factors when marriage is decided in India. And the majority still don’t get to choose. It sounds horrific when the ‘liberal’ Geeta says marriage is a compromise, but unfortunately that is the definition of marriage that many girls are taught from an early age. That you, the woman must be willing to adjust, especially with the man’s family, no matter how insane their demands might be.
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