The Matchmaking Matter of Contention.
A review of Netflix's new hit Indian Matchmaking, the documentary A Suitable Girl and an analysis of matchmaking all together.
Netflix's new show, Indian Matchmaking, was released to the world only last week and it has caused a fair amount of fans... and foes. If you haven't watched the show, it's a new reality type show with a range of singles, all either born and raised in India or American-Indians. At the helm, Sima Tamparia, a marriage consultant from Mumbai, as she diligently notes at every meeting. Sima uses 'biodata' to match clients for, you guessed it, marriage and the show follows these singles in their various meetings with potential partners.
To me, this concept of 'matchmaking' or rather, arranged marriages is not new or odd but something I grew up with having an understanding of. The process, at it's simplest form, is the introduction of a boy and a girl (in a hetero-normative, traditional culture) and their families, after which a yes/no decision of whether they want to marry is made. My frame of reference is of course my parents and whilst their meeting was 'arranged', very non-traditionally and progressively, they didn't make a decision there but instead got to know each other. As shown in the show, the process in the modern day seems to have progressed to this point of getting to know each other before a decision is made. Whilst this might seem alien to a western culture, this is very much the norm and even the expectation for a lot of Indian youths.
As a second generation immigrant, what did I think of the show?
It was a weird mix of entertainment, agitation and understanding which I think comes from being a product of a hybrid culture. I was entertained by the singles they had on the show but I feel the term characters would be more applicable. They were clearly antagonised and celebrated for entertainments sake. Attorney, Aparna was somewhat villainised for being independent and knowing what she wanted - this is not to say she was as open minded as she could have been, but the shady use of preemptive music was somewhat unnecessary. I can't say I wasn't entertained by this and I did laugh. I also, as traditional with watching reality TV, gained strong like/hate feelings towards these people based on not a lot.
I was agitated by the old-fashioned backing of matchmaking. The 'biodata' Sima uses is essentially a profile of the person with the key info at the top including their height, religion, skin tone and (maybe) caste. This is incredibly frustrating to me and many other viewers of the show it seems. So much political tension and violent history of India has come from issues of inequality and '-ism's' so, the fact that this is still perpetuated and informative of opinion for your life partner is devastating. What's more, there's no coverage of these issues, it has been purely commoditised for entertainment.
The agitation didn't stop there. It was perhaps most intense with a single called Akshay who claimed that he wants someone "exactly like his mother". Then we met his mother and again - frustration ensued. Her mollycoddling and overindulgence in her son were clear, something which is very classic in a patriarchal culture that idolises the man. Furthermore, the mothers expectation of a 'good' daughter-in-law that will fall in line to her militant sounding needs was agitating. Whilst this might not have come across on the show, the extent of her expectations and treatment of her future daughter-in-law is something I feel uncomfortable with.
'a major lack of realism for glorified entertainment'
It's at this point that the documentary A Suitable Girl becomes relevant. The documentary was directed by Smriti Mundhra who was the creator and director of Indian Matchmaking, in which Sima also appears. Sima's daughter along with two other young women are followed in their journey as single women to marriage, but is arguably a much more revealing work. Rather than a romanticised entertainment show, it focuses more on the feelings of the woman in this situation - her role and duties, how her life changes (somewhat dramatically), her independence and identity. It's an incredibly emotional and touching piece and shows the process of matchmaking in a truer light. I think in Indian Matchmaking, the singles are presented as equals and the politics and expectations are diminished, to extent, for entertainments sake. This is why I was agitated by the show - a major lack of realism for glorified entertainment.
Though, I had understanding for the singles who wanted to use the process of matchmaking. It has somewhat progressed and especially for the American-Indian singles, it can be understandable when you want to marry within your culture, but you are in an environment, in a country where you might not know communities of your culture. More so, often arranged marriages are arranged via family connections and communities.
So, it was... a mixed bag.
It was a great entertainment show, but being just that limited it's value. I think it could have been so much more powerful if there was follow up, and deeper investigation into the process, history and realities of matchmaking and arranged marriages. Additionally, the Harry Met Sally ending of jump cut interviews of 'successful' couples of arranged marriages romanticised it further.
I would strongly recommend watching A Suitable Girl and doing some more research into arranged marriages and gender roles in India.
Spoiler alert: none of them end up together.