After being memed, hate-watched, and think-pieced to death in 2020, Indian Matchmaking has snuck its way back onto our timelines, this time, with a baffling Emmy nomination for Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program. The show has been nominated alongside fan favourite hits like Queer Eye and Selling Sunset.
No one can deny the hold that this show had on audiences when it first became a viral sensation.
For a brief period, in the throes of the pandemic, Indian Matchmaking took over the Internet. Whether you cringe-binged it in one sitting, or chanced upon a GIF on your TL, odds are that you were somehow haunted by Sima Taparia (from Mumbai, of course).
The show’s controversial nature garnered significant viewership, and some much-needed discourse on the orthodox institution of marriage in Indian society.
Sima’s ‘matchmaking’ (if you could call it that), is heavily influenced by blatant casteism, classism, racialized beauty standards, fatphobia and a surface-level evaluation of her clientele.
It’s really no surprise her clients ended up single. But I digress.
The show’s heavily debated Emmy nomination has brought on a new wave of criticism, with many questioning why the Academy would select such a ‘regressive’ show to represent India.
But while this criticism is valid and necessary, we cannot deny that the show’s regressive nature is, in fact, grounded in reality.
Many viewers seemed to have misinterpreted bad representation as misrepresentation, and therein lies the problem.
Although the show’s glorification of traditional matchmaking is problematic, the process itself is in no way embellished when we look at the reality of the situation. More specifically, the representation of arranged marriage, while irresponsible and unchecked, is not inaccurate.
Indian Matchmaking isn’t just another trashy reality show that can be easily dismissed solely as problematic misrepresentation.
Beneath the cringe lurks an uncomfortable reality that we simply cannot avoid. The nonchalance with which we see families on the show discussing caste, skin colour, height, etc as a deal-breaker is a horrifyingly ordinary experience for far too many people.
It is clear that Indian Matchmaking’s depiction of the wedding industrial complex is a skewed one, not because it represents a horribly transactional, superficial approach to marriage, but because it repackages that mess as an adorable Desi quirk, glossing over its darker origins.
The matter-of-fact way in which they diminish real, complex human beings into numbers and vague adjectives is nauseating, yet, it is shamefully commonplace.
Sima approaches her clients with a mortifying bluntness, making viewers cringe with each comment. But as she casually deducts suitability points from them, the criteria for an ideal Indian bride or groom become painfully clear.
Tall, thin, fair, upper-caste, upper class, conventionally attractive, privileged, “good family values,” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean), and if you’re a woman, plus points for being a contortionist.
Contrary to what some may believe, these are not stereotypes. Flip to the matrimonial section of an Indian newspaper (yes, we do have those), and you’ll find hundreds of ads seeking ‘a suitable alliance’ with all of the above listed in painstaking detail.
The reason for this unsettling frankness is the fact that marriage in India is still seen as a functional undertaking. As Sima puts it, it is an agreement between two families, with ‘millions of dollars at stake’.
Growing up in Mumbai, people like Sima Aunty, Akshay and Pradyuman were very real fixtures in my life; an unpleasant reminder that Western education or modernization do not imply progressiveness. Albeit dramatized, the ideals they perpetuate do persist in the real world, whether we like it or not.
Once again: bad representation is not misrepresentation. Indian Matchmaking is proof that the arranged marriage fantasy still has Desis in a firm grip.
In response to the Emmy nomination, Sima Taparia proudly attributed the show’s success to her traditional approach to marriage:
“I have shown my Indian values which are hundreds of years old.”
Hate to break it to you Sima Aunty, but these old “values” are nothing to be proud of.
Yet Sima happens to be only one of millions of Indians who still endorse this practice.
Even in the 21st century, these dogma persist. 95% of Indians marry within their caste. Fair skin is also still strongly preferred in arranged marriages, trumping other traits. These ‘values’ are not relics. They are an uncomfortable, seemingly inextricable part of Indian culture.
Instead of demanding intelligent, nuanced representation from chaotic reality TV, perhaps we should reflect on why we are so angry in the first place.
While we tweet furiously at Sima Aunty for making us look bad and embarrassing us on an international platform, the fact remains that this is who we are. India is rooted in casteism, classism, Islamophobia, sexism and racism, despite its progressive front.
The question is, what are we going to do about it?
Anuja is an international student at the University of British Columbia, with a concentration in mental health and interpersonal development. When she isn’t having an existential crisis, you may find her dancing, taking pictures of her cat or yelling at unclejis. When she is having an existential crisis, you’ll probably find her in a window seat on the 99, listening to Mohammed Rafi and pretending she’s in a movie.
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