The show “Indian Matchmaking” has attracted immense scrutiny since its release on Netflix. On the surface, it is simply another reality TV show: think Indian version of Gossip Girl. However, not quite, because not only has it not left viewers feeling amused or entertained but it has also initiated a wave of remembered trauma and heartbreak.
It seems as if the show was meant to provide an honest and unfiltered look into the lives and loves of contemporary Indians: a fresh, relatable take on the concept of the “arranged marriage”. However, it falls short – by a mile.
With the first episode labelled ‘Slim, Trim and Educated’, the show hits the bull-eye on India’s dartboard of toxic culture. To the show’s credit, it really tries. The host and matchmaker, Sima Taparia, is shown to be a mentor who only wants the best for her clients. But the problem is that she caters to her clients’ stereotypical expectations and attitudes: in effect, she is part of the problem.
Some viewers are of the opinion that the show be taken more lightly; after all it is just a silly, vapid reality show that thrives on drama. These people aren’t wrong. But the show is also much more than that. It is a bold and callous belittling of just how torturous being put on the “marriage market” can be for individuals.
South Asians have struggled to reconcile the tradition embedded in the idea of arranged marriage with the harmful insecurities it awakens in them. For young Pakistanis, it is often a battle they wage within themselves: to bend to parents’ wishes and get married right out of school or to strike out on their own and risk never finding “the one”. But to enter the marriage market means exposing oneself to society’s unforgiving gaze: to be forced to worry about things such as the colour of your skin, your heritage, your family’s origins, how wealthy you are, how tall, how beautiful.
To borrow these concepts and condense them into 8 episodes of what is supposed to be a funny and entertaining glimpse into South Asian societies is to do an injustice to those who have lived – and hated – this reality.