“They want a girl who is slim, tall, educated, and from a good family,” says matchmaker Sima Taparia, as she flips between pages of marriage biodatas. Beside Taparia, her husband laughs. “They want everything.”
Directed by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Smriti Mundhra, Netflix series Indian Matchmaking offers an unsanitized glance into the nitty-gritty of South Asian arranged marriages. The show follows the day-to-activities of Sima Taparia, who navigates the labyrinthian love lives of Indian and immigrant millennials. From horoscope hurdles to culture contrasts, Taparia’s job is to find a middle ground between parents and partners, spouses, and societal norms. Because of Taparia, the end-all of a successful marriage is compromised.
Although praised by audiences for its comedic timing, Indian Matchmaking has been subject to widespread criticism for its portrayal of casteism, colorism, elitism, and sexism. And the critics aren’t wrong. If I had a dollar for every time Taparia or a client equated physical attractiveness with being “tall and fair”, I could probably afford Taparia’s fees. (There’s a reason why almost everyone on Indian Matchmaking is rich, and it’s not by accident.)
The show reveals deep-seated prejudices that form the bedrock of the arranged matchmaking system. Parents often request Taparia to look for a ‘good family background’ — a euphemism for a specific caste, class, and ethnic background. Colorism is a regular facet of the show. Ankita, a surprisingly likable client, is immediately labeled as ugly by Taparia for her darker skin. She prefers the likes of Pradhyuman and Rushali Rai, who are praised for their lighter complexions.
Women above the age of 30 (case in point: Aparna) are treated like slowly rotting vegetables, who must be carted off before they cross the expiry date. And once they agree to the marriage, these women’s preferences and opinions are quickly dismissed by Taparia. Indian Matchmaking’s vision of marital compromise often targets its women, who are expected to be flexible and beautiful and witty regardless of the groom.
“The bride has to change and compromise for the family,” says Preeti, mother of 23-year old Akshay. “Not the boy. Those are the values we were raised with.”
Aside from the casual misogyny, divorcees and single parents are wholly ignored in the matchmaking process, perhaps because they’re evidence that relationships — “heavenly” as they are — don’t always work. “If anybody comes to me with a child, I mostly don’t take that case, because it is a very tough job for me to match them,” says Taparia, while discussing single mother Rupam.
It’s flippant. It’s shallow. It’s the kind of discrimination that bites you where it hurts, even when packaged as a joke.
I can understand why so many Indian Americans my age despise Indian Matchmaking. As I watched the show for the first time, I found myself deeply uncomfortable. Although presented as ‘just another reality show’, the series provided a painful lens on the worst of South Asian culture — traits that have endured generations of development and diaspora.
The criticism is real, but it’s misdirected. With Mundhra’s keen sense of direction and focus, it’s obvious why the show is popular with a global audience. To offer an accurate glimpse into South Asian society, Mundhra has a duty to present its flaws — regardless of how ugly and misguided they may be.
“Yes, it’s misogynistic, it’s objectifying people.. but this is what India is,” says stand-up comedian Atul Khatri. In his review of the show, Khatri concedes, “You know what India is..you cannot ignore it, you cannot brush it under the carpet.”
Taparia can do her best to sugarcoat the flaws of her clients — that’s her job as a matchmaker. But what Indian Matchmaking refuses to do is sugarcoat Taparia and the system that has made her what she is.
A better glimpse into arranged marriages is A Suitable Girl, which came out in 2018, and might be a better watch!
Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. This year, Kanchan was selected as a semifinalist for the National Student Poets Program.