Now that the world is spoilt for choice on what to watch, it is no small feat that a TV show on arranged marriage has provoked all kinds of reactions. Indian Matchmaking, a reality series, has The New York Times carefully analysing the contradictions in diaspora society. The most revealing criticisms, however, come from long-suffering Indians who have borne the brunt of embarrassing set-ups. Their ire is directed (a tad unfairly) towards the intrepid matchmaker whose main flaw is to tell it like it is, no holds barred.
Indian Matchmaking follows the fascinatingly opaque Sima Taparia, as she flies between Mumbai and the US, pairing potential partners. “Sima Aunty”, as she is fondly called, unabashedly seeks the help of astrologers, face readers and palmists. Like any matchmaker worth her salt, she matches lawyer with lawyer and Sikh with Sikh. Predictably, Twitter exploded in outraged righteousness. Viewers called Sima Aunty a shameless traditionalist perpetuating a regressive idea of marriage. However, her simple formula is the time-tested bedrock of all arranged partnerships: that your chances of happiness (at least temporarily) improve with someone from a similar background. Indian Matchmaking is an accurate depiction of how things are done and what people want.
No doubt, this marital streamlining tacitly supports an insular hierarchy that favours some over others. In Sima Aunty’s defence, she’s not a social activist working to rid our great nation of 3,000-year-old historical wrongs. If people want thin, fair, tall and vegetarian partners, she will unapologetically produce them. Holding Indian Matchmaking responsible for promoting class bias is like accusing McDonald’s of selling artery-clogging fries. The market decides the business model. The real problem are those hapless candidates, who, despite the privileges of education, wealth and experience seem incapable of adult decisions. It is a trend I have noticed in my own circle, a fallout of helicopter parenting perhaps, there are way too many 30-somethings who lack courage to take a leap of faith.
This spouse hunt must be equally tough on the parents. Right when you think your responsibilities are over comes the deflating truth — that offsprings can be a pain for a lot longer than one envisioned. Indian parents are over-invested in their children’s lives so when they see a manchild lurking about lonesome, they feel compelled to set it right. Indian Matchmaking rings true because the families are shown in unflattering detail with a specter of loss permeating the atmosphere. The show nudges us to consider Sima Aunty’s suggestion to a candidate, to keep her own limitations in mind before writing men off too fast. The word ‘compromise’ was used. Perhaps it needed to be couched in millennial parlance: occasionally, we all have to suck it up. It is far easier to denounce sensible advice as sexist misogyny than examine the nuances within.
The reality is women, especially those who are doing well, are determined not to make the mistakes their mothers did, whether it was giving up careers or humouring ill-tempered relatives. But this quest for an equal partnership comes with an intolerance. An aunt of mine once noted that girls’ expectations are so high these days they think a prospective spouse’s parents should be photographs on a wall with a mala around them. It is one of those unassailable truths like the sky is blue, that parents, of partners especially, get on one’s nerves. If you’re not prepared for them ruining an occasional Sunday, better not get married. I have often wondered if shaadi.com or jeevansaathi.com were to create a subcategory of orphaned eligibles, would they be in overwhelming demand. Alas, like a perfect partner, that too, is an illogical dream.
Indeed, Indian Matchmaking is a canny indictment of a fraying institution. It’d the apprehension writ large on the candidates faces that most rattle the viewer.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films. Her column will appear every fortnight
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines