Unfair and Ugly

‘Indian Matchmaking’ Exposes the Easy Acceptance of Caste: “Netflix’s popular reality series is a tacit defense of arranged marriages and the role they play in upholding a system of discrimination.”

Contrary to what some viewers might think, the caste system is an active form of discrimination that persists in India and within the Indian American diaspora. One of the primary functions of arranged marriage is maintaining this status quo. This can be confirmed by a cursory glance at matrimonial columns in Indian newspapers, which are full of “Caste Wanted” headlines, or at the ubiquitous matchmaking websites that promise to help users find an upper-caste “Brahmin bride” or “Rajput boy,” while filtering profiles from people in lower castes. Marrying into the same caste of one’s birth is not, as Indian Matchmaking might suggest, a benign choice akin to finding someone who “matches your background” or has “similar values.” It’s a practice that helps dominant-caste folks preserve their power.

Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking’ Is The Talk Of India — And Not In A Good Way:

The show lays bare the hypocrisy of many seemingly progressive Indians, says Amita Nigam Sahaya, a gender activist and author of The Shaadi Story: Behind the Scenes of the Big Fat Indian Wedding.

“We’ve given all the tools [to women] vis-a-vis education, thought processes, financial autonomy,” Sahaya says. “But the moment she reaches a particular point in her 20s or 30s when she gets into a partnership with a man, we say now it’s time for you to take 100 steps back into a very traditional role.”

Casteism, Colorism & Culture: Indian Matchmaking Has A Lot Of Explaining To Do

One can argue — as the Indian Matchmaking creators already have — that this is simply Sima’s world, but the producers are none too forthcoming about a practice that has led to honor killings of inter-caste lovers and suppression of women’s autonomy. The latter was explored in another documentary, A Suitable Girl, co-directed by Mundhra. Sima even appears, too — though not as a confident know-it-all, but as the nervous mother of an uncertain bride. In the film, glamour and celebrity is abandoned for real, palpable precariousness. Indian Matchmaking likes to pretend that it’s showcasing a more modernized version of the practice, where suitors and their matches go on dates at wine bars instead of meeting one another on their wedding night. But under the watchful eyes of parents, caste and cultural hegemony, and a society that still looks down upon the unmarried, there aren’t many options.

Indian Matchmaking Only Scratches the Surface of a Big Problem:

The tradition in India and the Indian diaspora seems to be less about marriage and more about this intense, all-consuming pressure to mold your children. Nothing seems to fuel the marriage complex more than the fear of social stigma, of being somehow outside, somehow othered. In this context, it’s no wonder that matchmaking brings out the worst colorism, casteism, and classism that Indians have to offer. I wish Indian Matchmaking said anything about that. But at least it gives the world a view into the false promise of arranged marriage, even if, by the end, the series is still starry-eyed, committed to a fantasy. Aparna, my parents, all of the frantic parents who catch Sima’s wrist at a party and whisper biodata into her ear; they just want what was promised. They just want to belong.

How the reality show ‘Indian Matchmaking’ hides the reality:

Indian Matchmaking unpacks only selectively what an upper-class, upper-caste Indian marriage entails. It’s no coincidence that both the desi matches Sima Taparia makes are for “boys” ( grooms are invariably termed “boys” and brides are “girls”, even if they are well into their 30s). If the show had included desi girls, the sticky territory of “Kitne ki party hai, lena dena, saas ke liye zevar, nanad ke liye sari (how wealthy the families are, the demands for dowry and gifts)” would have been harder to shove under the carpet. But the show steers clear of un-classy on-camera bargaining, because that would be too “real” for a show which wants to go down easy, even if everything in it is staged.

posted by Ouverture (13 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

It was a bizarre show, clearly Sima and others viewed it as a way to promote arranged marriages but the fact that absolutely all of the “girls” and “boys” are still single is hilarious, not one marriage among them.
posted by saucysault at 4:41 PM on August 3
I watched a couple episodes simply because so many of my friends and family were talking about it and could not stand it. It felt morally obscene on so many levels and it makes me depressed to see so many people talk so positively about it.
posted by Ouverture at 4:42 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]
I thought it was interesting how in some ways the “characters” on the show have become proxies for the views of the commentators I’ve read writing about them. Like depending on who you talk to, Aparna’s strong opinions make her an object to be pitied (she’s trapped by expectations), hated (she’s stuck-up and difficult), or admired (she knows what she wants and won’t settle). Sima is truth-telling Tinder But Better, Sima’s perpetuating a damaging classist, patriarchal system. I don’t know whether the show is as complex as it feels to me or whether that’s me reading too much into it.
posted by schroedinger at 5:01 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]
The person I know who watched it was mostly a) amazed that this was a thing, b) thought the Indians had incredibly lush dwellings, and c) thought people were being incredibly frank in their discussions of desires. I have no interest in seeing it, but that’s what seems to be getting read in it by some folks…
posted by Going To Maine at 5:02 PM on August 3
thought the Indians had incredibly lush dwellings

They are quite wealthy.

Also, side-link, The Creator Of Indian Matchmaking Is Totally OK With All The Backlash.
posted by aramaic at 5:24 PM on August 3 [3 favorites]

I watched about ten minutes before turning it off in disgust. Lots of my non Indian friends have been delighted by this show, and I’ve had to just disengage, because trying to explain why it’s so hateful is exhausting. Thanks for posting these critical articles; maybe I’ll send them to my more pleasantly clueless friends.

And yeah, of course she welcomes the backlash. Backlash = free publicity. I’d like to see her donate the proceeds to an organization aimed at dismantling the casteism and colorism she claims to critique.
posted by basalganglia at 6:25 PM on August 3 [8 favorites]

I was really shocked by just how blatant and unapologetic the colorism in this show is. The “they have to be light-skinned”/“can’t be dark” thing came up over and over and over with no pushback or comment, to the extent that it seemed like a serious ethical lapse for Netflix to simply not address it at all.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 7:04 PM on August 3 [4 favorites]
I’ve had to just disengage

Just to say: It’s completely horrible and triggering, and people liking it (rather than, say, freaking out about how it’s all a nightmare) is … deeply alarming.
posted by aramaic at 7:06 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

Smriti Mundhra’s documentary from 2017, which I haven’t seen but apparently involves the same matchmaker with a more critical and less “Netflix dating show” framing, got so much less attention.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:07 PM on August 3
I find it kinda hilarious that American Exceptionalism even extends to how racist we think we are.

Netflix isn’t commenting because headlines of “American company shits on culture with almost two billion members and thousands of years of shared history” doesn’t play well. Especially when the specific group getting called out is incredibly wealthy and powerful, even by American standards.
posted by sideshow at 8:46 PM on August 3 [1 favorite]

Another perspective is ‘media production-for-consumption company enables empty, elitist subculture to show its own ass in public’.
Such is the nature of most ‘reality television’, is it not?
I haven’t watched it, but the chatter I’m hearing about people (outsiders) ‘liking’ it sounds similar to how they ‘liked’ Tiger King a few months ago.
Honey, come watch this. This can’t be real. Omigod, this might…they’re actually serious. I’m making popcorn, this is bizarre.
It might be time for the insiders to talk about how oh no, it’s very real for a small group of people, and what that might mean.

Or am I way off, not having watched it, that this feeds our repulsive curiosity about the dirty laundry of the overly priveleged?
posted by bartleby at 9:54 PM on August 3

I was really shocked by just how blatant and unapologetic the colorism in this show is

I was, sadly, expecting that. What I wasn’t expecting was how stringent everyone was – men and women both – about height. Like, most of the women wanted 6 feet or over, which is definitely above average height, and likewise a lot of the men (or their mothers…) wanted over 5.5″ in women, which again, is above average.
posted by smoke at 12:20 AM on August 4

i had to actively avoid the show, and of course over here we see the hypocrisy of it, because i don’t see a single malaysian indian who commented on it (esp women) without caveats or deep reservations or great irony. (it’s also driven by the fact that the majority of malaysian/singaporean indians are of southern stock, mostly tamilians, who are looked down on by the people seen in the show) but of course in american pop culture, this felt a bit like… you know, when there’s a fawning coverage of an Asian heir or heiress and how it’s this is somehow representation and also feminism? very that energy.
posted by cendawanita at 1:58 AM on August 4

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