Everyone has an opinion about Netflix’s reality dating-cum-wedding show Indian Matchmaking, which follows a handful of singles in India and America as they attempt to find their life partners through an Indian matchmaking service run by “master matchmaker” Sima Taparia. The end goal is a lavish Hindu wedding. The show has been rightly criticized for platforming the casteism, sexism, and colorism endemic to the arranged marriage business.
Editors Nadya Agrawal and Jeevika Verma and contributors Tara Kenny and Samia Kemal sat down together to sort out their own feelings about the series.
Nadya: What’s everyone’s experience with arranged marriage?
Tara: So I know that my grandma had an arranged marriage when she was 18, and I have some tangential or conceptual exposure because they still happen in Sri Lanka, but that’s about the extent of it for me.
Nadya: For me, my parents were arranged with an ad in the newspaper. My grandparents on both sides were as well. And then my aunts and uncles have had a mix of arranged and love matches. Also once I got propositioned for a rishta at my cousin’s wedding. Which was super weird and unwelcome.
Samia: The way they displayed “arranged” marriage in the show is more what I would call “orchestrated marriage.” Definitely have people in my family (aunts and uncles) that saw their spouse for the very first time on the day of their wedding and had no control over who they were marrying, but today the concept has sort of transformed to be like “this is a good family, why don’t you explore the possibility with this person?” I’ve definitely had aunties wanting to connect me with their sons for this reason, which has been encouraged by my mom but I’ve never explored the process beyond a phone call or two.
Jeevika: My closest personal experience is my parent’s experience, they had an arranged marriage in ’94. My grandpa put an ad in the newspaper. They got to “date” for a little bit though so it wasn’t forced. I have friends back in India who have been semi-forced into it.
Nadya: My parents were married 2 or 3 weeks after they met. I think it’s important to distinguish between arranged and forced. Kinda like what Samia said.
Tara: Definitely! What were your innate responses when you saw that the show existed? Like, pre actually watching it.
Nadya: Mixed! I was excited for another trash dating reality show and apprehensive about this concept. Like give me something dumb to watch. But uhh idk about this.
Jeevika: I tried to avoid watching it but then gave in.
Nadya: Why did you give in?
Jeevika: Honestly? I just got kinda drunk one night and wanted to watch something stupid with a friend lol but I think I tried to avoid it because I WANTED to enjoy it but knew I would take it too seriously, which I did.
Samia: I thought it would be like Love Is Blind and people would be meeting the day for their wedding. I wasn’t expecting them detailing peoples lives and backgrounds so much. I gave in because I had like 5 white friends text me asking if I’d watched it!
Nadya: Ugh the white pressure.
Tara: Many of my white friends had also burned through it before me. I feel like it was a bit of a tokenized exploration for white audiences to gawk at. Many called it “fascinating.” And interesting that it’s by an Indian director who made more of a serious documentary on the subject.
Nadya: See that’s the problem I think that a lot of people raised. Because it presented so many terrible things but didn’t criticize or question them extensively. Like casteism, colorism, sexism. I think white viewers are more likely to take things at face value too.
Jeevika: Yeah, exactly. And I think it was triggering for some people I know, but more entertaining for others.
Tara: Yeah, definitely. And I think even for me because I’m Sri Lankan not Indian a lot of the caste complexities went over my head.
Samia: I wasn’t sure who it was for going in. How did your guys’ white friends react to the show? Did they share?
Jeevika: Most of my white friends focused on the meme side of it, like “oh Sima is so crazy, Akshay sucks, Aparna is uptight.” I don’t think they got the history or nuances of arranged marriage.
Tara: For my friends it was mixed. Some of them were like “yum yum yum, loved it.” And then others said they found it hard to watch because of the colorism and sexism. To be honest the second response kind of annoyed me more.
Nadya: Why did that annoy you, Tara?
Tara: Because I found it annoying that “woke” white people would watch it and judge Indian culture for being regressive. Because I think Western reality shows are also underpinned by totally problematic assumptions. So I think the fact that white people would be critical and hold it to this very high standard was annoying.
Samia: Right, Tara. Even if we found the concepts equally racist and sexist.
Jeevika: Totally – I had one friend say that she was surprised they had such values when they were obviously “educated” and “super rich.”
Nadya: I mean I think it had sort of the same issues as any dating reality show – namely sexism and racism. But the added flavor here was casteism and cultural specificity.
Tara: Yeah totally. And I feel like white friends who watch stuff like The Bachelor happily were critical of Indian Matchmaking because some of the discrimination was more overt and explicitly stated. Whereas on other reality shows it’s often more veiled. If that makes sense?
Nadya: I agree but I also disagree that it’s more veiled. Like The Bachelor hasn’t had a Black bachelor I don’t think. They only recently had a Black bachelorette. The infrastructure is racist for these shows. Was it possible to watch the show without recognizing the bigotry? The takes from writers like Yashica Dutt in the Atlantic are really important here.
Tara: I don’t think on The Bachelor someone would explicitly say they don’t date Black people but it might be more implied by their actions. The play through is more subtle.
Samia: I think the fair skin comments might be the most overt aspect.
Nadya: What was watching the show like for you guys? Who did you like or not like and why?
Jeevika: I found it hit too close to home. I’m from India and grew up there and my whole extended family talks the way Sima talks, and in the US I try to avoid those conversations or be more critical of them. In India I’m not allowed to push back and I felt the same way looking at the screen. Like I’ve been called aside at parties at home for “talking back” to an uncle for saying something that Sima would say.
Samia: Wow – that’s very triggering, Jeevika.
Nadya: Ugh, Jeevika, that’s real.
Tara: Yes, I can definitely see how if you’ve been really scarred emotionally by this system to then see it represented as this cutesy quaint thing that’s totally fine be would triggering.
Nadya: Right! It’s not quaint! It was tough watching some of these people. Like so many of them obviously didn’t want to get married or felt pressured into it.
Tara: Yeah, like Akshay !!!
Nadya: And the others seemed so lonely.
Samia: I feel like everyone was super offput by Aparna and don’t get me wrong, she had no emotional intelligence to start – at least the way they edited it. I do feel like there’s something to be said for being an educated woman, who is in her mid thirties seeking a partner. It hit home for me because I do feel like there is an “expiration date” placed on women.
Jeevika: I think the conversation around editing is so important here.
Tara: Mm yes I thought Aparna was a very interesting character. At the same time, I feel like with this wave of think pieces, people have been trying to recast her as this feminist hero, as if she was misrepresented because she’s a boss and unwilling to settle for anyone. Whereas I felt like…look, she’s clearly a really unhappy and complex character.
Nadya: I thought her mom’s story was moving though. Like way more interesting too.
Jeevika: I also don’t think the parents were looked at close enough – I know Aparna’s mom was forced to get married at 19, but I wanted to hear more from other parents – why didn’t the show “edit” around the parents so we’d understand where this push came from? Like Rupam’s dad didn’t want her to get married to someone who had been divorced to a white woman, but he let Rupam’s sister get married outside the South Asian community and she was happy? Where did his learning come from.
Samia: I don’t know because the dad wasn’t Shown in any of the scenes with the sisters family.
Tara: That’s true, Samia.
Samia: I wonder how accepting he is but I also could just be jumping to massive conclusions.
Tara: The sister may have just bowed out of the family and now the dad feels like he has to double down on Rupam??
Jeevika: That’s true, I guess we could assume Rupam wanted to be the “good” child.
Nadya: So much unsaid!!
Jeevika: But that’s the thing – we’re left to assume so much.
Tara: Honestly some of the parent child relationships were as interesting as the romantic ones.
Nadya: Akshay’s mom was a terror. So manipulative
Samia: I guess Akshay broke off the engagement. That girl dodged a bullet.
Tara: Omg, when she tries to guilt him for holding up his brother and her wife from having a baby. Terrifying.
Nadya: When the girl he was marrying said sometimes he’s caring I screamed.
Jeevika: Akshay’s mom was emotionally abusive
Samia: We never even saw Rashi’s reaction to Vyasar telling her about his dad.
Nadya: They kind of picked up and dropped people so fast.
Jeevika: Some of the conclusions were left really open ended and I didn’t get the point of it.
Tara: I do think some of these characters were quite relatable and “normal” compared to other dating shows. Of course some of them were stereotyped, e.g. Aparna is the “difficult one,” Pradhyuman is the playboy.
Nadya: None of these people ended up married. So what does that say about how successful this is.
Jeevika: Like when Rupam goes off and finds a guy on Bumble.
Samia: I don’t know how great an endorsement it is of Sima’s business lol.
Tara: Lol yes there is slim evidence that Sima is Mumbai’s top matchmaker. But then I felt like Vyasar and Nadia seemed like really good solid people?
Nadya: I loved those two!!
Tara: Me too!!!
Nadya: Everybody else was so hard to watch
Jeevika: They were the two best ones, I also liked Rupam though.
Nadya: I wanted to spend more time with Ankita too.
Tara: Yes, she was great!
Nadya: You know when she kept saying people called her ugly I felt so bad for her.
Samia: I felt for her.
Nadya: It’s obviously because she’s darker skinned.
Tara: Me too, she was beautiful!!
Samia: Beauty standards can be ruthless in India and Pakistan.
Jeevika: Would have loved to have seen more women based in India, rather than BOTH Akshay and Pradhyuman who were spoilt and rejected girls left and right.
Nadya: They just seemed uninterested. Super pressured too.
Samia: Neither of them wanted to get married at all.
Tara: Until they gave Pradhyuman Miss India lol.
Nadya: I wonder about the experience for these scions. Not like a lot. I mean they are not the most interesting. But still. This show seemed like a lot of rich people nonsense.
Tara: I think they seemed to serve to sort of bring the glitzy Indian energy.
Jeevika: Exactly, Tara. And often it was the women so Pradhyuman and Akshay could reject them.
Tara: Whereas the Indian-Americans were maybe meant to be more relatable to the viewers like “they’re just like us,” but Indian!
Jeevika: Exactly! Also what was the point of Akshay’s cousin and all the screen time she got.
Samia: I legit thought he would marry her by the end which isn’t uncommon. I was very convinced that’s where that storyline was headed.
Nadya: I thought so too. They had such a weird energy.
Samia: Especially since she was just about the only person he could have a conversation with. His convos with that girl he got engaged to were… DULL. “I like dogs but I don’t like cats” … “cool me too” … it may also have sounded super weird if English is their second language.
Jeevika: Clearly she was there to get some camera attention and raise her career, which I feel a lot of these “contestants” or whatever you want to call them got from the show. Which is good to keep in mind. How much of it was real?
Nadya: I would say 40% real. That model girl was def boosting her career.
Jeevika: And there was all this talk about the guy that stood Nadya up actually never standing her up.
Tara: Yes, I read that too.
Nadya: And Pradhyuman was boosting his shop.
Tara: I feel like Vyasar was legit in it for love.
Jeevika: Exactly, and that’s where the concept of arranged marriage became a joke instead of something to look at critically.
Samia: It felt like they definitely had a HEAVY hand with editing
Nadya: Do you think there needed to be more internal critique? Like calling things out?
Tara: Mmm, to its credit I did appreciate that the show didn’t go to hard on the “weirdness” of arranged marriage, if that makes sense. I think it could have been way more “look at these weird foreigners with their weird traditions.”
Nadya: Yeah I mean that’s a mixed bag. Arranged marriage isn’t always good or always bad.
Jeevika: Yeah – I think Ankita called things out when she spoke on camera about Geeta but not much else.
Tara: But yeah it’s obviously a mixed bag because it’s maybe at the expense of critical dialogue about the caste stuff, etc.
Nadya: It relies on the subjugation of women in a lot of ways and reinforces caste discrimination.
Jeevika: I don’t think I wanted the show to take a stance, but I would have wanted more critique from the characters, I think often they just weren’t well-rounded to me because of how they dropped off.
Samia: I definitely was happy that it wasn’t just all models like the girl who met Pradhyuman.
Tara: But I feel like by even just showing how divorcees, people who aren’t from “good families” are treated in this value system, it kind of highlighted the issues without doing so overtly or even on purpose. Is it because arranged marriages are inherently so complex that trying to represent them as entertainment can’t be done? Like, the only ethical way to do is it to make a serious documentary?
Nadya: Arranged marriages aren’t entertaining.
Tara: I guess I feel like – Western marriages end in divorce, domestic violence, people get into them for the wrong reasons, etc. And no one is expecting Western shows to start with a disclaimer about intimate partner violence.
Samia: No often it’s what it sounds like, it’s cut and dry and about the families. Very little about the couple in real life. That was triggering for me. I feel like I have trouble distinguishing my parents wants from my own and where those lines start and end.
Jeevika: They did show “real” people, I agree. Just not properly. We were left to fill in a lot of blanks, and I worry not everyone knows how to fill them in.
Samia: There can be a lot of emotionally toxic parent-child Desi relationships. Intergenerational trauma. Less explored in the show but all over the place in interactions.
Jeevika: In the show the kids just sort of went along with the parents wishes though we could tell they didn’t want to. I kept waiting for Akshay or someone to say to their mom “no.” The concept of agency was so blurred in the show ugh.
Tara: I was talking to my sister about the show, and she said one thing she thought was nice to see was Indian-Americans who have dated white people, non Indians, etc. and have the choice to marry out, to see them actually actively saying their culture is important to them. Because I feel like as a South Asian growing up in the west there is a lot of internalizing of Anglo Saxon beauty and values. So I kind of appreciated them just not being like eh it’s too hard I’ll just be with a non-Indian. But my take obviously misses the more dark side of them wanting to keep it in their caste.
Samia: Yeah I agree, Tara. Most everyone was concerned with marrying someone from the same region. They didn’t dig into that fear and where it comes from and why it exists and I guess that’s a lot to expect from a dating show but I have serious doubts anyone can find true happiness just prioritizing their caste.
Jeevika: Thats true, Samia, but I think that’s where it gets complicated to turn the concept of arranged marriage into a dating show in the first place.
Nadya: We didn’t even talking about the Guyanese representation. I felt so bad that Sima didn’t know anything about the community and that she tried to match Nadia based on her Guyanese identity.
Samia: It was so sad that Nadia seemed happy that someone didn’t “mind” that she was Guyanese. Like what? Tragic.
Jeevika: Yeah that was really sad.
Tara: Yes that was super sad!
Nadya: I hated it!!!
Tara: Like, not an option that someone would just love all facets of who you are rather than love you in spite of them.
Jeevika: I also hated the “criteria” that would pop up for each person, though I know it was amusing.
Tara: Lol I loved how some of it was so generic. Like “positive.”
Nadya: Very “good vibes only.”
Tara: She was indeed about the vibes.
Samia: They gave a lot of info about these people away haha. I found like 10 of them on Liinkedin
Jeevika: My favorite line from the show was when Sima says, “when I think about Aparna.. I just get tired.” Which is tbh how I feel about the show itself.