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Weekend Drama Report: Indian Matchmaking vs. Real Life

Anisa: We binge-watched the Netflix reality series Indian Matchmaking! Along with what seems like the rest of the world, and especially South Asians. We also caught the follow-up interviews with some of the cast that were released six days ago. Let’s just say…we have a lot of feelings.

Saya: I can’t believe I watched the whole thing in like, one morning. I don’t watch reality TV, but this was compulsively watchable.

Anisa: I sat down with my mother, sister, and Dadi (grandmother) and we finished it in like three sittings! (I do enjoy a good dating/matchmaking reality show though. Or even a bad one.)

Paroma: I’ve recently discovered a liking for reality dating shows after catching Love is Blind and Too Hot to Handle. Had a vague thought that a Desi version of such shows would be hilarious. Never expected someone to actually go make it!

Saya: When you recced it as “so bad it’s good”, Paroma, I thought this would be funny-bad, but it ended up hitting kind of close to home.

Anisa: I actually really enjoyed it, cringe and all. There was something about seeing this diverse array of people from both the homeland and the diaspora, around my age, struggling to navigate how to approach finding a life partner, that really resonated with me.

Paroma: Feels like it resonated with a lot of people.

Saya: Yes, completely, especially for the reasons Anisa says, compounded by the fact that many of the conversations the women had were ones I have to have regularly—the type where you have to stand your ground despite an immense societal pressure to do things a certain way, live a certain kind of life, meet very specific milestones. It felt so personal.

Paroma: It maybe felt this personal because a lot of the cultural conversation that we hear in the background were suddenly brought into sharp focus and it’s almost like some secret part of our lives were revealed.

Anisa: It definitely felt personal. For that reason, and because—keeping in line with a theme that we’ve been discussing a lot lately—it made me feel represented in a way I never have before. Even though, like, why does it matter if you feel seen by a reality matchmaking show? But to see American Desis, and not just Indians or Pakistanis “back home,” in such a high-level production with an insider point of view is nothing I’ve seen before.

Saya: It’s a little weird to me that it’s trending so high on UK Netflix—I mean, that means…all the white people are watching it. There’s something about that that is…I’m not sure what the right word is. Like being peeked on in your private life? (Though the show itself doesn’t have a voyeuristic gaze.) Actually, Paroma put it perfectly above. When I think of people outside the culture watching it, I’m oddly unsettled.

Anisa: I guess it speaks to the question of who the show was made for. There’s been a lot of controversy online around the colorism, the emphasis on problematic criteria when it comes to finding a match, the different expectations for men and women—but that’s real. And the show is not primarily speaking to a non-South Asian audience, which I really liked. Sure, it’s a frothy, over-dramatised reality show with all the usual tropes, but there’s a freedom in the way it just puts the whole hot mess out there. And that’s maybe a little squirmy for those of us who grew up conscious of the white gaze, but I’ve given myself permission to not care what anyone else thinks about this one.

Saya: What really struck me after the bonus episode was how the show framed Aparna—like they really went in for showing her like this sourpuss, lemon-mouthed, abrasive person with a difficult personality (which, you may already know, is the kind of personality I really relate to, haha). But in the interview, she was so much…more. I can’t explain exactly. She was so complete, and her strong opinions were given a rightful context which I think was taken away from her in the main show. Like, her sense of self-awareness and her obvious self-knowledge, and the fact that she’d chosen to become who she was, and she wasn’t prepared to trade that in or make herself less to meet some arbitrary standard of successful womanhood.

Paroma: I actually ended up loving Aparna the best. The show initially did her dirty. The problem was that the producers really wanted to create caricatures we could laugh at, not characters. So a lot of development and context was left out.

Anisa: Yeah. The show did eventually give her some backstory and development, so I already liked her a lot more by the end than I did in the beginning. But they did do her dirty, and even more than that, I’m struck by the strong negative reaction viewers had to her. I haven’t waded deep into the conversation around the show since I just finished it, but even I know that Aparna was being memed and talked about in a very different way from some of the male cast members. And some of these dudes were awful.

Saya: We are definitely coming back to the dudes.

Paroma: I liked how well Aparna took those memes though. It speaks well for how confident she is that she can brush off harsh judgement and social media mockery with poise. I also found myself triggered by the pressures on her to lower her standards. As she was shown going on those dates, trying to stay optimistic and positive, while constantly being called stubborn by Sima Aunty, I felt a powerful bond with her. It broke my heart to see her get less exacting about her requirements, like the Aunty’s words were literally sucking the vibrancy out of her. The HEA I was looking for by the end was Aparna firing Sima Aunty’s ass.

Saya: AMEN. Especially where Sima Aunty kept battering on about compromising, which honestly is one of those lines used to silence women. Like, how dare they have standards? It’s not like Aparna didn’t understand the concept, she just didn’t agree. She didn’t need to be schooled about what to make herself accept or how to make herself acceptable. People have things they can compromise on, but when you ask them, okay what’s your criteria? You can’t then tell them that’s where they have to make concessions. I mean, if they could concede, it wouldn’t be on the list. At least, it wouldn’t be on Aparna’s list. (Not everybody deserves that much credit *cough*Akshay*cough*Pradhyuman*cough*)

Paroma: I generally liked all the women, whereas only Vyasar saved all Indian men from being represented by idiots. I wonder if that was a deliberate choice or if South Asian men are really that bad. 😂 The other thing that I loved about the show was how well it hopped between homeland and diaspora cultures without it ever feeling jarring. Somehow this has seemed impossible for all productions before. Maybe it was the lack of sitar and tabla and shots of cows and beggars when the camera shifted to India? Not sure. 🤔

Saya: It was Crazy Rich Indians 😂 I have to admit, though, that until they brought it up in the bonus episode, I didn’t click how differently the women had been treated compared to the men, but the moment she said it, I saw everything. I was too busy being triggered by Sima Aunty to notice it before.

Anisa: Same here, actually. Maybe I just went in with my Desi marriage talk expectations hat on, or maybe I was bracing for it to be worse than it was. (That interviewer was great, by the way.)

Saya: You know what I find really funny? Like, funny-strange, not funny-haha. When Anisa and I first talked about our various matchmaking experiences and Paroma told us, “listening to you guys talk [about this] is like listening to people from my parents’ generation.” That came to my mind again when the interviewer, Dolly, said she agreed that the process was regressive. I admit that made me do a big double-take! I expect people from Western cultures to have that opinion, but it’s still really surprising to me that the feeling among our generation in the homeland is really so different from the diasporic attitudes and realities. Though perhaps I should qualify that as from a specifically practising Muslim perspective, and therefore a non-dating culture where the pressures are exerted in slightly different ratios.

Paroma: I can guarantee that the younger Muslim generation here have strong opinions about who they want to be married to. But, of course, the privilege of choice and making our opinions known isn’t available to every class and segment of society. Upper class Muslim families tend to allow their children more freedom of choice. It’s the same with upper class Hindu families. NOT to be mixed up with upper-caste Hindu families, who’ll likely take the worst of all our traditions into the 23rd century. 🤦 Let’s say I got lucky that my family is classist, not casteist. 😂

Anisa: I think there’s also an element to being in the diaspora that makes us more inclined toward arranged marriage. Because if you want to get married either to s