Making a Case for “Indian Matchmaking”

Aug/17/2020 / by Surabhi Lal
Indian Matchmaking

It’s been two weeks since I binge-watched the Netflix series “Indian Matchmaking.” Even before I watched the series, I had read many critical responses to the show, which called out the sexist history of arranged marriages, colorism, caste, and body image. Even here in the pages of SEEMA, founder Seema Kumar called the show “a major setback.” So I expected all these issues to be present in a show about arranged marriage and matchmaking, but what struck me most was what the articles didn’t cover: the diversity of Indian and Indian-American experiences represented. I never expected to see the variety of backgrounds, family structures, religions, and professions that the show put front and center.

If we see Sima Auntie as a narrator, she introduces us to a range of Indian and Indian-American experiences. In the very first episode, we are confronted with the question of who is “really” Indian: Nadia, for instance, tells us that her Indo-Guyanese background has prompted others to consider her “not Indian enough,” especially in the case of looking for a partner. She talks openly about the complexity of identity and how she sees herself as Indian and Guyanese and American. The sleight of hand of the director in showing Nadia as an event planner at an Indian wedding and then in a dance studio before we know Nadia’s background certainly made her revelation that she is Indo-Guyanese a surprise to me. At the end of the episode, I was intrigued, as this one of the first popular Indian productions I’d seen representing the Indo-Caribbean community.

Throughout the series we are also introduced to family structures that go beyond the traditional nuclear family. Vyasar lives with his extended family, including his grandparents, uncle, and cousin. We get to meet them all through bits and pieces of conversation. While this type of arrangement may be commonplace in India, it is less so in Austin, where he lives.

In another Texas town, Aparna’s mother talks about her divorce and raising her two girls to be independent and self-reliant. And in Delhi, Ankita’s family seems completely open to whether Ankita wants to invest in matchmaking, her business, or both. At the end of the series we also meet Rupam, a mother who is looking to get remarried. We’re introduced to her sister’s family, her brother-in-law who is Black, and her two adorable nieces. Seeing these families, we get a glimpse into the diversity of families that exist in the South Asian community.

Then there is the diversity in religion and professions in the series. Sima Auntie keeps copious profiles of her clients and potential matches, and through those we are exposed to the range of religious and faith beliefs that exist in India and the diaspora as well, including the Muslim, Sikh, and Christian religions. And of course there is Hindu, where much of the Indian representation in films and television focuses. As we continue to through the episodes we are introduced to an educator, veterinarian, fitness executive, fashion designer, entrepreneur, and more. These careers are a far cry from the small number professions that some of us were taught were “acceptable,” such as medicine, law, engineering, and finance.

I will be the first to say that “Indian Matchmaking” raises many issues that are antithetical to my feminist and equity ideals — but that at the same time, it has shown a greater representation of the Indian community. Perhaps it is this juxtaposition that allows us to both be drawn to the characters and to have criticisms of the context that surrounds the show.

In the end, I knew that the show would reflect the issues that surround arranged marriages, as well as in Indian society, like traditional gender roles, caste, and colorism. What I did not expect was to see a diversity of Indian experiences to connect to.