Irrespective of background, educational qualifications, religion and caste, there is something every, single, carefree 30-year-old Indian has in common with his or her fellow citizens: an endless stream of friends and well-meaning relatives haranguing them to get married. In this country, the couple life is still revered as the only legitimate way for adults to seek happiness despite hard evidence to the contrary; overcrowded family courts spilling over with people seeking divorce. It has always astonished me that people I’ve found completely free-spirited and unconventional do a complete turn around when their own children reach “marriageable age” and spend sleepless nights if the appropriate partner hasn’t been found. This obsession with matrimony has been fed in no small way by the entertainment industry when the extended family, with all its structures and tensions continues to be the safest storyline for filmmakers in Bollywood. Generations of moviegoers knew you can have three hours of traversing familiar territories of yearning, betrayal and matriarchal interference, secure in the knowledge that the conclusion will be a glittering and tearful wedding. Marriage is no trifling matter and Indians will settle for nothing less, in fiction or otherwise.
Which is why, it is surprising that it took this long for reality TV to examine the changing nature of relationships in 21st century India, where ancient traditions naturally clash with shifting gender roles. Though there are a growing number of career women across sectors, TV is not ready to celebrate their independence and they get little or no representation on cable. It appears that no matter how much people may crave to flee from them in private, their preference is to watch the joint family, for leisure. The proof of the pudding is in the surfeit of successful soap operas currently on air, showcasing actors dressed in gaudy finery and celebrating obscure tradition. These have all the eyeballs and if one considers the cringe-y copy of Sex and the City called Four More Shots Please, contrived and unconvincing about the travails of single women, you actually begin to think the old hit Balika Vadhu (child marriage) is much more in tune with our realities. It’s no wonder then, that most of TV watching India is talking about Indian Matchmaking on Netflix, as being that rare show that bridges the gap between the Balika Vadhu and Four More Shots viewer.
Set between the US and Mumbai, the show traces the life and career of a formidable 50-something matchmaker Sima Taparia and her clients as she helps them navigate, arguably, one of the most important decisions of their lives. In a similar vein, Karan Johar explored the lives of people looking for “the one” on another Netflix show What The Love! that released just a few months back. It was a worthy but lacklustre attempt that never quite got viewers invested into the psyche of millennials. Indian Matchmaking works because the clients and their families are exposed in minute detail, even everything they’re not saying permeates the atmosphere discomfitingly. Ms Taparia, happily married herself for 30-something years uses the word destiny a lot but no one can deny her innate wisdom. She has her task cut out, cajoling her clients, most of whom seem to harbour deep disillusionment about relationships despite being on three dating apps simultaneously.
Is their inability to find someone a problem of plenty, or a result of picky perfectionism, after spending their youth in a race to self optimize? Or just paralyzing indecision, the kind we feel at a Zara sale? Taparia observes, not incorrectly, how one of her clients, a successful lawyer approaches matchmaking like ordering off a menu as if they can expect everything on their checklist to be ticked off. She doesn’t need to say it, the audience sees it anyway, that said candidate is no unique entre` herself but more like the third item in a long buffet — who would have a better chance complementing another dish in the buffet. Taparia’s down-to-earth advise can get a bit jarring like when she tells a single mom that she almost never takes on cases like that because they’re so hard to match. Happily enough, as she preaches to all these budding brides and grooms, Taparia, too, has learned to “adjust”.