When Indian Matchmaking first aired on Netflix, the South Asian community was left experiencing a plethora of emotions. Here was a show that defied the global expectations of finding love, created a mascot in the form of Sima Taparia who remained adamant that compromise is a key pillar of marriage, and projected South Asian faces on our screens in their quest to find partners. Reviews and opinions aplenty poured in, and while many watched the series to nitpick flaws and offer politically correct deconstructions, the premise went onto become wildly successful, paving a path for a second season that aired recently.
A BBC review labels the show as being "cringeworthy," (a fact that can be countered by consuming the show through a post-colonial lens) but even that outlook can do little to undo the fact that Time Magazine included it in the list of the 50 most influential reality shows of all time. As audiences are sucked into the vortex of the show once again, a few questions must be asked and addressed. Is there any truth to the claim that the show is, in fact, cringeworthy? Is it an accurate representation of South Asian relationships? Must the individuals in the show be burdened with the responsibility of being politically correct in the current social landscape – an element that allegedly gets negated with Sima from Mumbai insisting on settling for a partner that meets 60% to 70% of the proposed criteria, as opposed to the complete package?
Having watched both seasons, one notices certain demarcations. First and foremost, while the second season brings back certain favorites (Nadia Jagessar, Pradhyuman Maloo, and Aparna Shewakramani), it, in no way, intends to provide them with a trajectory that ends with marriage. The show seems to take a step back from successful matchmaking, and seems to focus on individual journeys. Sima Taparia, the harbinger of auspicious matches, struggles this season to be able to find a couple for whom stars align, and upon whom destiny smiles. Nadia and Aparna have their individual journeys that double as lessons and opportunities for growth. This is, indeed, a welcome and vital change. If the perceived message previously was all about rushing to find a match, the show branches out this season to replicate the many complications of life, and how marriage is simply a destination, and not the entire journey.
The tone itself is quite different this season. Where viewers experienced instances of tongue-in-cheek editing in the first season, the second season is almost too self-aware, and refreshingly so. The humorous editing quips make us feel in on the joke, and circumstances play out in a way where any semblance of unreasonable behavior finds a way to be called out. It is almost as if karma subconsciously became a primary theme this season. Without giving too much away, good karma benefits those who are steadfast and believe in their proposed demands and themselves, whereas bad karma comes into play when ill-intentioned actions come to light.
The accuracy of the representation of the matchmaking process is an intriguing element in the show. It cannot be denied that many participants on the show possess a certain level of privilege. Straight off the bat, this creates a marked difference in the way matchmaking processes may play out. The subcontinent is, unfortunately, notorious when it comes to female agency – or lack thereof – and the fact of the matter is that the absence of agency continues to be a lived reality for many people till date. However, it must also be noted that the target audience of the show is different, and even though conversations around exercising agency may, at times, be contentious, the presence of agency is a defining factor.
Viral Joshi, a participant on Season 2 of Indian Matchmaking, shares her take on how accurate Indian Matchmaking is when it comes to representing the process of arranged marriages.
"Sima Aunty’s brand of matchmaking represents many aspects of arranged marriage culture in the subcontinent," shares Viral. "The show highlights arranged marriage culture with its clear focus on matching like-minded individuals with shared values and similar religious and regional upbringings/backgrounds (the cultures vary vastly by state), by including the families, and also by consulting astrologers, looking at birth charts, etc. But unlike matchmaking of the past, the show also places more emphasis on mutual physical attraction, romance, and chemistry. So it's traditional matchmaking with a modern twist."
Shital Patel, another participant on the show, shares her insight as well.
"In my experience," begins Shital, "I feel that today’s modern arranged marriage is a collaborative effort between family, friends, and [one's] network to vet and help find a potential love match. If we look at arranged marriage in this sense, I do believe Indian Matchmaking accurately portrays this. Sima Aunty is a matchmaker who could be someone’s aunt, family, or friend that assists with the vetting process to help an individual find their life partner."
While Viral and Shital seem to echo similar thoughts regarding the show and its representative capabilities, Indian Matchmaking veteran, Aparna Shewakramani shares her take that seems to differ.
"Indian Matchmaking does not represent an entire subcontinent or the arranged marriage culture," states Aparna. "It is merely the story of seven people working with one matchmaker in the hopes of finding love. The show is a representation of those specific people only. If viewers see their own experience reflected in these handful of individuals, then it’s my belief that the similarities (and differences) of that experience are what start important conversations in the community about the arranged marriage process."
There is a great deal of credibility when it comes to all these statements. Indeed, the process is individualistic, and success is not guaranteed. However, the way matchmaking plays out in certain spheres of society is, to a certain extent, showcased on the series, and for an outsider who may be unaware of the inner workings of South Asian culture, the depiction serves as a guiding light. More so than anything, Sima Taparia is, perhaps, one of the most accurate portrayals of those who facilitate the process, emphasizing upon some level of settling, and keeping expectations "reasonable."
Viral, whose overall experience remained fruitful on account of her finding love all by herself in the form of Aashay, opened up about working with Taparia and her modus operandi.
"The hardest part for me was hearing Sima Aunty say I should be okay with 60-70%," says Viral. "I just couldn’t digest it. I felt that if I’m asking for qualities I, myself, bring to the table, there's no chance I was going to be okay with someone who wasn't at least my equal. But her process is working great so far!"
Further insights shared by Shital and Aparna seem to align with Viral's perspective as well, with the matter of settling for lesser than one's expectations becoming a point of disagreement.
"Overall the experience was good," begins Shital, "but we did differ on a few fundamental things (settling vs compromise). Her view is that we can only aim to get 60%-70% of what we want in a partner and to me that felt a lot like settling. I don’t aim for 60%-70% in my professional life, my relationships with friends and family, so why would I settle for anything less than 100% in my life partner? It must be the type A in me. I am happy I stuck to what I believed I deserved because in the end I did get 100% with my current partner."
"In season 2," states Aparna, "I personally chose not to work with a matchmaker. I had a poor experience in the past, as the viewers saw in Season 1, and was certain repeating the experience would not be a good idea. So instead, I shared my ongoing story and my search for love on my own terms, so [that] the viewers could get an alternate viewpoint of matchmaking in the South Asian community. In this season, my “matchmaker” in the background is Gurki Basra from Netflix’s Dating Around and my match is her very own cousin, Daman Baath. So much of our cultural matchmaking involves aunts, uncles, cousins, friends and even co-workers setting you up with someone they believe is a good fit for you. And that’s a special part of the South Asian matchmaking experience that I truly enjoyed this season. It was such a vastly different experience when my matchmaker was truly a friend, a cheerleader of my happiness and someone who thoughtfully listened to me and matched me with someone she thought was a good fit!"
Another Indian Matchmaking veteran, Pradhyuman Maloo, also spoke about the process of working with the famed Sima from Mumbai, and given the fact that his story spans two seasons as well, concluding with him finding love on his own in the form of Ashima, his take provides further insight.
"Sima Taparia has her own style and methods of putting across rights and wrongs," shares Pradhyuman, "and I feel that it’s rooted back to the generation and society [from which] she [comes]. Throughout the process, we did have our differences, keeping the personal relationship aside. She has been an important part of the journey, as well as our wedding functions. It has been a great pleasure being associated with a woman as strong as her."
Perhaps one of the best parts about Season 2 of Indian Matchmaking is this very pushback to the idea of settling. Where the show has been critiqued for the propagation of seemingly regressive views, it is this conversation around persevering under pressure to hold off for the person you deem fit that is both refreshing and more than welcome. One can go as far as to say that the show allows for authenticity on the part of a traditional matchmaker, who represents a mindset that was, and still is prevalent in a South Asian context. However, the participants and diverse cast come in as an antithesis to the very same, not only waving off the idea of compromise, but finding success on their own terms in the process. Indian Matchmaking, therefore, becomes a space where two starkly different worldviews truthfully coexist, sometimes meeting halfway, and, at other times, branching off to create a personalized happily-ever-after. It can be argued that both these representations are important, because every individual shown in the series does truly exist, and finds resonance among the viewers.
"Many fans of the show have reached out on social media," says Viral, "and told me how much they appreciate feeling represented on TV by another brown woman. Or how it felt good to finally see a brown woman be confident, be comfortable with her cultural roots, and have dating success without minimizing herself or settling. It’s proof that a strong woman can find an equally strong man who appreciates her independence and sees it as an asset to the relationship."
"My story was a message of hope," remarks Shital, "the inner journey, and not settling for 60%-70%. That really resonated with viewers, and I have had an overwhelming response of genuine love and people saying that they have continued faith in their own journeys of finding love so that’s been incredible."
"Like all women, I am multifaceted," states Aparna, "even if that is not shown on an edited show. I am a daughter, sister, loving friend, and now, a bestselling author. I am building a life I am proud of and continue to search for my partner. My desire is to continue living a life on my own terms outside of what society pressures women to do, be and achieve."
"The depiction of 'Aparna' on screen remains polarizing," she continues, "which means I get a lot of love and a lot of not-so-nice commentary. I believe that the conversations I initially spurred around topics such as feminism, sexism, and misogyny in the South Asian culture have clearly made a huge impact on so many people and the outpouring of support after this second season is evidence of that growth in our global community as a whole."
"I think I have a lot of gratitude for the amount of fame I have received post the show release," begins Pradhyuman, "and my heart goes out to all the readers, viewers who have made an impact by supporting me till here. The show is absolutely unscripted, in the sense that we had to speak about marriage naturally during the interview process, banking on our individual emotions and thoughts. We did not have the set of questions shared with us beforehand. The show has been reflective of our own personalities. However, having a plethora of content [on] Netflix [meant editing] the bits to be able to build and suit a narrative as per their vision for the story which diluted a lot of elements of all the participants due to time constraints."
With a wrapped-up second season under its wing, Indian Matchmaking has, as mentioned earlier, evoked a wide range of feelings amongst viewers. While all the agreement and critique may hold merit in its own right, what cannot be denied is that the series took something at the very core of South Asian society, building relatability, and utilized it to project people who look, sound, think, and feel like us on our screens. What many write off as "cringeworthy," is, in fact, the existence of very real people, opinions, and mindsets that contribute to the overall diversity of not only the Indian landscape, but the landscape of the overall subcontinent. If we consider representation to be a work in progress, Indian Matchmaking is, undoubtedly, an intriguing, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining first step.
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