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HomeOpinionPoVNetflix celebrates 'aunty gaze', caste and colourism in Indian matchmaking

Netflix celebrates ‘aunty gaze’, caste and colourism in Indian matchmaking

The show, which follows matchmaker Sima Taparia find suitable partners for Indians & Indian Americans, perpetuates the regressive idea that parents know best.

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Indian Matchmaking on Netflix is the kind of aunty gaze nobody needs to see highlighted, or worse, glorified. Watching the show, that follows Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia find suitable partners for Indians and Indian Americans, is as uncomfortable as talking to an Indian ‘aunty’ at a wedding once you’ve reached the so-called ‘marriageable age’.

The uncle-aunty ideology is one that presumes our parents know best when it comes to finding a life partner, and that their children’s opinions are irrelevant. They throw numbers around about the high failure rate of ‘love marriages’ in India as evidence that their preferred mode of arranged marriage has and will always be superior. Forget about the fact that what empowers someone to enter  marriage on their own will also empower them to exit a potentially toxic, abusive or dysfunctional relationship.

This ‘family’ insistence is the reason why women often continue to opt for and stay in arranged marriages, since breaking off their relationship could somehow cast a shadow on the ‘reputation’ of their family. This also allows nosy relatives to ask intrusive questions like, “when are you giving us the good news,” or make judgements about the equation the husband and wife share. These relatives just need to back off, we don’t need them. And we don’t need Netflix to come in and give a glorified platform to this regressive hogwash.

Indian Matchmaking is a glorification of this aunty gaze, that refuses to criticise arranged marriages which are nothing more than a product of India’s patriarchal, classist and casteist society that constantly ensures there is no ‘deviation’ from the norm.

With people on the show saying things like, “we don’t say arranged marriages or love marriages in India, we say marriages or love marriages’, the show plays into the antiquated idea that your parents and your community have a legitimately larger role to play than you yourself, while choosing a life partner.

Taparia is the perfect embodiment of a typical aunty who perpetuates casteist, sexist and colourist notions throughout the show and believes parents know best.

A white audience

Most of Taparia’s clients in the show are NRIs, willing to find a potential suitor through the ‘South Asian’ tradition of arranged marriages.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Oscar-nominated director Smriti Mundhra said she wanted to depict this tradition of arranged marriages for a global audience on Netflix, but not specifically for a Western gaze. But by failing to capture the changes and progress India’s urban youth have achieved over the years, the result is a snackable, amusing, and shocking show for white audiences to binge.

Nowhere in sight are the struggles of a ‘modern’ Indian, battling the regressive mentality of their parents. Apart from just navigating the difficult search for a suitor, these struggles include the general resistance many have to put up against parents who continually try to exert their choices upon us.

Mundhra claims the show is meant to capture the diversity of ideologies and backgrounds that make up the South Asian experience, but no criticality is exercised at any point. Taparia’s orthodox ideas are never judged, and the viewer is forced to see the characters, especially the women of the show as impossible creatures who are looking for a life partner but are unwilling to ‘compromise’.

Perhaps some diversity would have been reflected on screen if the director had actually bothered to speak to a cross-section of young Indians, instead of running off to NRIs. Just because Western audiences might find certain old-fashioned facets of our culture intriguing, doesn’t mean we should glorify those things.

Also read: Partying with strangers: Why urban India is choosing to spend weekends meeting new people

Arranged marriages shouldn’t be glorified

Choosing a spouse is an extremely important decision, and affects one’s life more than anything else. Marriage is between two individuals, and Indian society’s insistence that it is between two families requires immediate cancellation.

Arranged marriages also perpetuate casteism, more openly and brazenly than anything else. While other casteist practices like untouchability continue to be practiced in many upper-caste households in a hush-hush way, matchmaking is where they publicly advertise their casteist notions in the newspapers.

To see Netflix give a platform to a show that is outrightly regressive, shows the level of sensitivity still needed while portraying different cultures across the world. Netflix needs to have a more diverse set of executives and consultants in place while commissioning such shows, since it’s one of the world’s leading platforms for people to consume pop culture from different regions of the world.

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  1. “classist and casteist[ sic]”: Sounds redundant to me! But since the author is hyperventilating, I’m gonna led this slide.. Cool?
    I just wanna ask this author: Proportionally, how of that “progress” she’s mentioning whilst hyperventilating about RW OCI-cardholders through and through — has been achieved?

    To wit, the proportion to the entirety of India’s populace. No distinction such as “urban vs rural”( regionalism). Nada. Nothing at all.

    That’s it, hitherto. Wanna answer, Ms Shubhangi?

  2. Firstly, the show is about the Matchmaker and her clients – It shows the family realities about the 1% affluent Indians (How we know it ? Ans:This might be a show for you but in reality,we see this and much more with different families across the strata ! There are many other untold/unseen, fascinating stories across rest of the society) .

    Do not get offended by opinionated characters in the stories – People are as they are for a reason. Filmmaker Smriti has managed to pick some interesting mix of families/characters to portray the work-life of a traditional Indian matchmaker.

    Please don’t perceive it as the reality in entire India.Matchmaking has been there in all cultures across the world and it’s making a comeback during these ‘Swipe-culture’ times even in well advanced markets like United States (How we know it ? Ans:We also run the back-end work for 3 of such Matchmaking Agencies right from Bangalore,India).

    The traditional Indian matchmaker portrayed by the filmmaker is dying daily and the real-life-character Sima Taparia has been mentioning it throughout the episodes that Matchmaking is becoming tougher these days and she is trying her best .

    The modern-day Indian matchmaking is not what you have seen on-screen .

    It’s not a one-man-show anymore.(How we know it ? Ans:We run a not-just-for-profit Matchmaking firm which has a team of Headhunters/Searchologists, Background Check Experts, Matchmakers, Psychologists/Counselors, Specialist Doctors, Subject-Matter-Experts, Financial and Career Analysts, Stylists and Fitness Experts).

    The film shows people as who they are and it shows some streaks of Millennial attitudes and some specific attitudes of high-flyers like Aparna. How flawed-society judge individuals quickly and how they correct themselves (some don’t). As the episodes progress, we can see how some people change or how they are as they are etc. It also tells us that Good/Bad, Right/Wrong are subjective concepts and that Morality can be Subjective and that’s indigestible for many and they feel disconnected.

    The film also captured how Sima, the matchmaker, consulted different heads like Astrologers, Face-readers etc. to have a different or 3rd-party view/opinion about the individuals or clients. It shows how some questions made clients to do introspection, how an astrologer’s euphemism worked as an eyeopener for non-believer like Aparna .

    It also captured how Millenial Matchmaker Geetha missed out to do the background-check on her client etc. and how Sima wisely refers her bottle-necked clients to life-coach who smartly threw the questions for introspection and how it changed the clients positively .

    Overall it shows the reality of a certain segment from that segment’s Matchmaker’s viewpoint. It shows some personal-flaws and some great takeaways from Indian culture though Indian culture is so diverse and cannot be stamped as just one culture.

    As viewed by another Matchmaking Company – www,MarriageAlliance.Company
    Summary: Good Reality Show about the 1% of Indians ! http://www.MarriageAlliance.Company

    • Bwahahahahaha!

      Classic “Save India’s honour” denialism at play under way too much..

      …Padding of argumentum ad verecundiam.

  3. i’ll let you into a secret – you know reproduction – like in flowers – the younger ones quite often look similar to the older ones don’t they? well what happens sometimes is the younger one in human being is a reproductive similarity as the older one … literally … it’s God having a laugh at all of us coz we don’t know until it’s too late. same things happen not exactly at the same time bu-ut … so …

  4. I’m on the third episode and whilst your points are correct around the problems of this style of “match making”, I wouldn’t necessarily see it as glorifying arranged marriages and if anything, it exposes all of the problems around arranged marriages in Desi culture. I see it as a good thing for this series to be released because it’s finally allowing us to have this very conversation in the first place, something that hasn’t happened until now and it’s through that we can start to make real change.

    • Are you referring to the urban masses by “we”?!?

      Because the “urban vs rural” regionalism also..

      …Plays a lot!
      Just like the author is moaning about all-too-common “glorification” but directly-global stage in ENGLISH-languages, the “purity” of “rural culture” — like organised-religions, is a indescribably tough-roadblock. ‘Course, I won’t expect for you to even try grasping the gravity of it — if you’re yet-another with rose-tinted glasses.

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