Indian Matchmaking: A peek into the great Indian wedding circus
The cardinal rule of journalism is to never make a story about yourself. But Indian matchmaking is deeply personal, just as rejection -- the show's strongest narrative thread -- is deeply personal too.
By the social media yardstick, the polarising Netflix show Indian Matchmaking is "old news". It premiered almost a week ago but the chatter around it continues unabated. I watched the show as soon as it dropped, in one sitting. Then why take five days to write about it? Because the show is exhausting and honestly, is missing a trigger warning.
The glossy nature of the show reminded me of how dowry is discussed in “educated, progressive” homes in the country. Excerpts from a conversation I heard as a 13-year-old at a “matchmaking meet”:
Bride’s uncle: Now that the formalities are out of the way, what are the demands? (laughs a little too much, nervously)
Groom’s father: We have no demands at all. We just want the children to be happy.
Bride’s family, friends, their collective conscience and the universe breathes a sigh of relief
Groom’s father (continues): But we gave our daughter 100 tolas. You can also give your daughter whatever you want.
So, the magic number is 100 tolas. The bride’s mother does a quick mental calculation of fixed deposit savings and the father sees his retirement plans being pushed a few years ahead.
But fret not, for laddus are distributed and “Such nice people no? Did not ask for anything only” is repeated multiple times over the next few days by everyone, to themselves and each other.
If the aforementioned conversation was transplanted from the living room of a house in Kerala to an OTT platform, it would be Indian Matchmaking.
It exposes, through 8 episodes, everything that is wrong with weddings and marriages. It trains its lens not just on the institution of marriage, but also on the hows and whys of the practice.
Sima Taparia from Mumbai, who is the show's little-too-friendly neighbour cupid auntie, tells every client that they need to adjust. They aren’t going to find the partner of their dreams who will just magically fit into their scheme of things. It takes work.
Sounds like good advice, but like everything else about the show and its subject, it is not what meets the eye. The “adjustment” barometer works differently for different people. For instance, Akshay (read: Akshay’s mother) will not entertain the idea of a bride who is shorter than 5 feet 3 inches. Akshay’s adjustment would entail him agreeing to meet shorter women.
But when Akshay meets an MBA graduate who wishes to work after marriage, he is worried. “Who will look after the kids?” he asks.
He stays silent as she discusses her career plans and then proceeds to get engaged to her. So, in Sima’s and Akshay’s world, the girl’s adjustment would entail her giving up on her career.
But does she know this? Is this discussed with her?
We don’t know, just like we don’t know half the people who are invited to our big fat Indian weddings.
I’ve been seeing a lot of jokes about the show on matchmaking and arranged marriages on Netflix and as someone who’s lived through this hell for most of her twenties, I’m here to tell you; it’s no joking matter 1/n— nikita doval (@nikitadoval) July 19, 2020
Turn right for rejection street
“You have a pretty face, just make sure you lose some weight before you think of marriage.”
“He isn’t driven enough. He’s a loser.”
“If you are a divorcee, your choice of suitors is considerably smaller.”
During the course of the show, a divorced woman is told by Sima that her child could be a liability to the matchmaking process. Her first marriage is described by her father as a “blunder”, multiple times in her presence, reminding her not to make the same mistakes again. He also says that he is proud of his daughter - but he chooses to say this in her absence.
A 25-year-old man is told that time is running out and that him not “settling down” is affecting his mother’s health. Another man is told to marry so he won’t need to hang out with his friends as much.
In the midst of this, there is also a kitty party where women discuss future daughters-in-law like they are commodities. The amount of money that will go into a wedding is also discussed. Men casually talk about how they have “rejected over 100 women.”
These visuals are deeply unsettling because they are strikingly familiar. The trauma of being rejected on paper for what you know are the weakest chinks in your armour is too common for comfort.
This happens in a job interview too. So why is it different?
“Because when you are rejected for a job you can reconcile with the fact that your education qualifications or training is not what the employer is looking for. But when you are rejected in such a process, you can’t help but look at it as a rejection of you as an entity. And that is deeply scarring,” says Deepa*, an engineer, who met more than 100 men before she realised that she may find a suitor if she keeps going but would surely lose herself.
Will the angst fuel a season 2?
Several people are of the opinion that even dignifying the show with a conversation will provide the opposite of the desired result. “Nothing will change, but all these people hate-watching will give rise to a season 2,” a friend says.
It may very well get an extension and the second season will, hopefully, give rise to more outrage.
Why do I say this? Because my 53-year-old father who sat through the show was as appalled as me. He was by no means unaware of the cracks in the glorified institution, but now it was shoved down his throat and he was ready to throw up. “Is this a satire?” he asked, half-befuddled and half-hopeful.
“Could be. For most parts it’s the truth,” I replied.
“See, you don’t have to marry to be happy, you know. Your relationship status does not define you,” he added, even as Akshay’s mother talked incessantly about her daughter-in-law having to be flexible.
If conversations like these were the intention of Indian Matchmaking, then the show has served its purpose. The show has led to online and offline conversations about marriage in a country where all things pure, holy and familial are out of bounds. It has revealed that classism, casteism and colourism are so close to home that it clouds “the only relationship we choose”. And that a $50 billion dollar business industry that involves the coming together of families, lots of “finding the best fit” and a “forever of togetherness” is built on the shaky foundation of the most transient of things and the oldest of prejudices.