Under the guise of modernity, Indian Matchmaking ends up reinforcing South Asian prejudices

Netflix's latest reality TV show opens up space for discussion and introspection while also being fodder for social media memes
Updated 07 Aug, 2020

Netflix’s original series, Indian Matchmaking has hit a raw nerve with audiences in India, Pakistan and many in the diaspora of South Asian descent.

While many societies around the world, including the liberal west (the supposed hub of marriage based on love alone), have a tradition of matchmaking services, the subcontinent stubbornly clings to its own special brand of “rishta culture”, where relationships are formed not just between individuals but entire families.

Enter Sima Taparia, an elite class matchmaker based in Mumbai, who is the kind of “aunty “everyone knows and fears.

Unfettered by any notions of political correctness, Taparia politely listens to her clientele: repeating the all too familiar mantra of “tall, fair slim, good-natured “ and introduces them to a potential husband or wife.

Sima Taparia is the real star of the Netflix show
Sima Taparia is the real star of the Netflix show

Her passive-aggressiveness aside, the looks of quiet judgement have made her a meme star and the series a hit.

The series is another version of the reality TV genre that has made diverse shows such as Big Boss, Pakistani Idol, Pepsi Battle of the Bands, The Great British Bake Show and The Real Housewives franchise big hits.

Different standards for desi men and women

Most Pakistanis are familiar with the trolley routine where a girl brings tea for a prospective groom and his family, but that is not what happens on this show. Instead, the couples are shown bio-datas and asked to go on dates at restaurants and other public places to see if there is enough connection to take the matter further.

While this may seem more open than the more chaperoned Pakistani style of matrimony, the family control and sky-high expectations are strikingly similar.

Aparna has a 'demanding attitude' according to Taparia
Aparna has a 'demanding attitude' according to Taparia

One of Taparia's clients is a Houston-based lawyer named Aparna, who comes across as a perfectionist, one who needs her life partner to know that the country of Bolivia has salt flats because she is fond of travelling. Taparia spends a lot of time trying to understand Aparna’s “demanding “attitude with a professional face reader and a detailed astrological analysis. Meanwhile Akshay, a traditional young man from a wealthy family who wants someone just like his mother —has turned down over 70 young women on the basis of their photographs alone— is not so thoroughly examined.

“Demanding behaviour is not healthy, whether it comes from a man or a woman, because it represents a desire to control which is not an ingredient found in strong relationships“ says Dr Sheeza Mohsin, a marriage counsellor and family therapist who has been watching the show.

She added that the “the demanding label is sometimes put on women who are educated and economically independent because they may be less likely to tolerate emotional abuse or domestic violence.“

For many, though Indian Matchmaking has opened up a space for discussion and introspection, but finding a spouse is too often reduced to a stark algorithm of materialistic requirements.

But men do not escape judgment entirely in this show either; another wealthy young bachelor is Pradhyuman, a jewellery designer from Mumbai, who has rejected even more young women, (150 plus at last count) who also faced criticism. His self-absorption and lack of connectivity with any of the women he was matched with was pretty evident.

A photo posted by Instagram (@instagram) on

Similarly, Akshay may not have been criticised by Taparia but many on social media pointed out he was very immature and incapable of thinking independently of his mother. On the other end of the spectrum, we saw the more flexible Nadia, who despite her friendly, sweet personality and ability to like every person she was matched with was still unable to find commitment.

So, despite the veneer of modernity, the tradition of different standards for men and women and all the ancient prejudices end up being reinforced on the show.

Every one of the clients fits into the template of society’s expectations of success and materialism: education from top universities, accomplished careers, wealthy business owners, all seem to be achievers yet none can seem to make a connection. The one engagement or “baat pakki” that happened on the show was also broken off according to the Los Angeles Times.

Hyper focused on a 'wedding', not the marriage

I asked Dr Mohsin why relationship success seemed so elusive for these people?

She explains, “Unfortunately, the show focused on the part of our society where privileged people are looking to make an event out of their child’s wedding. I will repeat the word wedding because the show had very little to do with marriage, which is a commitment to make a life with someone."

Reality TV is not reality, a lot of “soft scripting” is involved and participants are chosen for their ability to create conflict and the dilemmas that give us an interesting viewing experience. Very few people are waiting to watch a series about sensible people making wise, moderate decisions, constantly agreeing with each other.

Indian Matchmaking achieves this melodrama on a microscale, but can, like life, drag at points.

From the safety of our couches, Sima Aunty and the rest of the cast can sometimes be funny, endearing and irritating by turns, and the show has gained a presence both on social media for both the issues it raises and as a fun watch for some.

The stereotypes have been particularly grating for some because they crowd out any room for a wider perspective and more diverse experiences in that same rishta culture. None of the individuals displayed any growth in understanding or maturity despite their experiences and their inability to find a partner, and end up putting a subtle, almost orientalist, lens on this traditional procedure.

Akshay's engagement didn't last beyond the show
Akshay's engagement didn't last beyond the show

Just as there are some who do not like the rishta culture, a more modified and flexible model of this kind of matchmaking has actually been successful for people and led to lifelong happy marriages.

Sadaf Siddiqui who writes on television and cinema for both Indian and Pakistani publications, says, “South Asians are doing so many things but again, representation on the international stage is reduced to the usual arranged marriages and how backward things are."

She continues, "One of the biggest stereotypes is the idea that highly educated women cannot sustain a relationship because they won’t be 'adjustable'."

Every one of the clients fits into the template of society’s expectations of success and materialism: education from top universities, accomplished careers, wealthy business owners, all seem to be achievers yet none can seem to make a connection.

Dr Mohsin weighs in on this saying, “Pew Research has conducted a study which shows the more educated you are, the higher the chances are that your marriage will last.”

She elaborated further by saying, “Women and men who pursue higher education are possibly more connected with emotional intelligence or EQ, also the more mature they are, the more they know how to manage conflict and how long a relationship lasts correlates with the ability to manage and resolve conflict.“

Superficially this might seem different to the Pakistani experience but, though we may not match horoscopes — the rest of the process seems startlingly familiar.

A photo posted by Instagram (@instagram) on

The demands for good looking trophy brides, wealthy men with property, doctor bahus (who are not allowed to practice medicine after marriage), and women who must know how to “compromise” staple requirements. There are less critical voices that have said: sit back and enjoy the show, why take what is obviously an augmented reality meant to help you spend a few hours relaxing so seriously?

For many, though Indian Matchmaking has opened up a space for discussion and introspection, but finding a spouse is too often reduced to a stark algorithm of materialistic requirements. Most of the qualities that actually make human relationships work such as patience, kindness, generosity of spirit and the ability to resolve conflict in a reasonable manner are too often completely ignored.


Haider Aug 06, 2020 05:14pm
Er, no. It only ends up reinforcing Indian prejudices.
KAMAL NAYAN Aug 06, 2020 07:33pm
Loved this. But certainly we are changing
Anirudh Aug 06, 2020 11:03pm
"There are no single parents, no divorced people" ... I guess the writer hasn't seen the series entirely. Rupam is a divorced single mother
zeva Aug 06, 2020 11:11pm
There are divorced people on the show
Sania Mirza Aug 06, 2020 11:51pm
Life imitates Art ... imitates Life. We eventually find what we are looking for , even if it was not we really wanted. It might not be perfect, but I would recommend every young man or woman initiating a look into marriage and companionship to watch this show. And think and discuss about it with your friends. There is much to learn about dating, match making and adjusting to your partner.
Whatever Aug 07, 2020 01:04am
Shows that money cannot buy class and good looks.
RationalBabu Aug 07, 2020 01:26am
At least we admit to sharing one shameful cultural trait!
Tamilselvan Aug 07, 2020 01:37am
All match making sites have very similar requests from both men and women. Have you ever seen an ad on any match making sure that a person needs an ugly ducking type of person or a arrogant, rude, short tempered person etc . Basically wishes are same all around the world but what one ends up is different in most cases
Kant patel Aug 07, 2020 04:26am
In the West there’s a myth that the arranged marriage system lies only in the Asian sub-continent. Actually, in Europe, the royal and aristocratic families widely indulge in these practices, and the common people even accept them as rather normal.
Idris Aug 07, 2020 07:55am
Nice one highlights the other side of the coin
sach baat Aug 07, 2020 08:29am
This is more a North Indian depiction and when I say North Pakistan too is very similar to North of India and the North Indian has little in common with South Indian. In Tamil there is a saying - "Karupp aan aazhag"- meaning- black/dark is beautiful. The Tamilians have accepted their dark skin tone as their own. A light skin tone finds it difficult to find acceptance in films or politics. Jaylalitha - a brahmin and fair had to caricature herself as Amma for her to be seen differently. Kamal Hasan can never make it big for he has a light skin tone but a Rajnikanth can since he has features of local Tamilians. Pakistanis assume North India as entire India and have little or no knowledge of people and cultures of other states. Bollywood is their feed. India cannot be paint brushed in a single stroke- just too much diversity.
Banglamitra Aug 07, 2020 09:12am
Similar stories across all countries in Indian subcontinent.
lasun Aug 07, 2020 10:52am
Why bother about India and Indian shows...Pak has ertugul
Hina Amirali Aug 07, 2020 11:39am
I think you just ignored that there was a client who was divorced and a single parent so may be get the facts right, although she wasn't matched with anyone since she found another course of action.
Chrís Dăn Aug 07, 2020 03:23pm
We share many - clothes ,cooking pattern , the attitude about girls versus boys in family etecetera etecetera.
Chrís Dăn Aug 07, 2020 03:25pm
Not now a favourite ritual. Even traditional royal family if England is flexible and Prince Andrew broke all myths. Yes Uslamic countries have this traditions as well as India.
Dr.Raza Murad Aug 07, 2020 04:49pm
Arranged marriages where women are economically dependent on the husband are likely to survive longer than where the women are better looking and have a better paying job. Fifty percent of all American marriages through dating end up in a divorce. Cannot say one system is better than the other.
Rahul S. Aug 07, 2020 05:44pm
It works !
Patel Aug 09, 2020 09:16pm
There is nothing remotely modern about the matchmaking process. It’s all a one big chaos created by incompatible people and personalities.