At a time when most people were glued to screens, streaming non-stop to escape pandemic realties, Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, released in July 2020, created global buzz for all the wrong reasons.
What was it about a show with “Indian” in the title that made it trend not only on Netflix India, but also Netflix Canada? The show eventually scored an Emmy nomination that was met with disconcerted displeasure from Indians and the Indian diaspora.
At the outset, the premise of Indian Matchmaking is about normalizing, or even valorizing the tired trope of arranged marriages in India.
The institution of arranged marriage essentially dictates caste-based discrimination in India, falling prey to blatant religious politics. The fundamental backbone of Hindu religion has been the historically violent caste system—rigid social groups characterized by hereditary transmission of life style, occupation, and social status—which has been relayed and protected through generations by same-caste marriages.
In the show, the Indian diaspora in the US is shown to idolize marrying in one’s own culture (read: caste). Cultural theorist Stuart Hall explains that any diaspora tends to hook itself in familiarized, nostalgic affirmations with one’s culture of origin, which he terms as “associational identification.” The characters and framing of the show reinforce such notions, suggesting that the couples similarity in culture is based on their religion and upper caste.
Upper class, upper caste
The show is called “Indian” Matchmaking, but “Indian” is substitute for Hindu traditionalism, and glorifies upper-class, upper-caste, Hindu marriages.
Defending the lack of inclusivity in the show, executive producer Smriti Mundhra said in a recent interview “one cannot make a show that’s going to represent 1.3 billion people across the globe.” While Mundhra’s response might have some truth to it, why was it important to tell this story? Are we meant to be drawn in by the story of the show’s matchmaker, Sima Taparia?
While introducing herself as “Sima from Mumbai” to characters in the US, Taparia implicitly dissociates herself from India, affirming her allegiance to a