Edited by: Simren Sekhon, Ramya Chaturvedi & Rishita Sadh
Produced in collaboration with The Millennial Margarita
Women Unbounded has teamed up with The Millennial Margarita to tackle Netflix’ controversial ‘Indian Matchmaking’ series! A four-part series, each review will explore a host of themes, concepts and norms perpetuated in the show, and here, the Singaporean-Indian collaboration shall unpack it all. Read on to see what Ramya, Rishita, Khushi and Simren had to say when they sat down together. Click here if you missed Part #1 of the series!
Ramya: There are a number of problematic stereotypes portrayed in the docu–series Indian Matchmaking - be it in relation to gender, age or sexuality etc. Who wants to start us off with uncovering it all?
Khushi: Gendered stereotypes were so clear to me from the beginning of the show. Take Aparna and Akshay’s portrayals for instance. Aparna, an educated and accomplished lawyer, made clear the expectations she had for her partner. As 4 empowered women sitting here having this conversation, I am sure we can agree that this was not unreasonable of her. However, Sima kept insisting that she needs to compromise and be flexible about her expectations, going further to say she was fussy for rejecting two men. & then we see Akshay, who rejected over a hundred girls and instead, Sima suggests he’s just confused. Is he not the one being inflexible?
Simren: I think a similar tangent is evident with the portrayal of Ankita’s narrative too. One of her matchmakers made it a point to explain that she had to compromise no matter what, e.g. if her partner suddenly needed to go work in Timbuktu, she was expected to drop everything and go. & Ankita said her preference would be to have a conversation with her husband and decipher how best to compromise as a team. But the matchmaker persisted with a gendered expectation that the man takes priority i.e. where he needs to go work, he needs to be his career, his life. As if the wife is just an addition that needs to follow suit and is not her independent person with desires and dreams and ambitions? It's just crazy: is this really what a healthy marriage is expected to look like?
Rishita: This is true not just of the couple but the families’ expectations too. Akshay’s mum, Preeti, insists that her daughter-in-law needs to be flexible to what she defines as “my house my rules”. Again the independent desires a woman may have for the home she wants to build with her husband is completely overlooked.
Simren: Within the construct of marriage, women's desires in relationships are sadly not discussed or prioritised at all. Instead of it being an equal, ideally empowering dynamic - problematic norms of marriage are imposed. In the case of Preeti, it's almost as if her daughter-in-law has to be this sort of doll that follows the mother-in-law's rules. The classism is exacerbated here when she shows the amount of jewelry she has for her daughter-in-law: as if her role should just be to wear this jewelry and look pretty. It saddens me that with wealth, they don't expect more substance, voice or independence in a woman. Through this conversation and the last, we definitely see a persistence that unfortunately, the key criterion for a wife lies on her physical appearance alone.
Ramya: There is then this tension for Indian women who desire their independence but are faced with the expectation of dependence on and malleability for her husband. The concept of a woman’s desire to have a career, kids, a partner who is understanding i.e. a whole life like that is hers to make then appears an impossibility on the show.
Rishita: I think it also important to mention here the stereotypes that arise in regard to sexuality. A recent controversy arose because people believed Pradyuman is gay. In an interview with Humans of Bombay, he unveiled how empowered he felt by his creative, fashionable, straight self; but simply because he has a flair for cooking, people labelled him as gay.
Khushi: In general, people assume a stereotype for gay males. I’d like to think that instead, in the 21st century, we can move past archaic stereotypes of what a heteronormative male has to behave like and diversify our perceptions of the LGBTQ+ community. The void is clear here: there is no mention of same sex marriage at all in the entire show.
Ramya: It also saddened me that no inter caste marriages were shown. & relationships beyond those within the Hindu community were barely depicted. There appeared to be a tokenistic representation of the Sikh community and there was no representation of the Muslim community whatsoever. This doesn’t even begin to cover the totality of religious diversity in India.
Rishita: The show’s depiction of only middle to upper class families also gives the sense that arranged marriages happen only in rich Hindu families. But India is not like that. There are people of different income levels and arranged marriages exist differently for the distinct communities herein.
Simren: I think it’s also worth highlighting that Nadia’s experience dating Indian men had seen her rejected on multiple accounts given that she was Guyanese Indian i.e. potential partners saw her as not wholly Indian. It makes me question what stereotypes the South Asian community upholds and expects of itself? Be it of the diaspora or otherwise, like what does being Indian really mean? Surely being a part of the Indian diaspora in Singapore gives me the right to say I am Indian. Or is it that I am expected to fit specific social, relationship, religious, physical norms to “qualify”? It just feels, again and again, so undermining to the diversity we have in our community.
Khushi: Across these variations, one crosscutting stereotype to notice is that of age. It was repeatedly mentioned that after a certain age, people assume you are no longer eligible to find a life partner. Aparna is 34 and her narrative persisted with assumptions that she was too old; Akshay, even at the age of 25, was made to feel that his time to get married was running out.
Another scene that really frustrated me was when Preeti tells Akshay that his brother and sister-in-law are waiting for him to get married so they can have a baby. What if Pooja doesn’t want to have a baby at all? Surely that is her choice. The idea that the family, and particularly her mother-in-law, had decided the timelines of her pregnancy felt really disturbing to me.
Rishita: This show firstly, lends itself as accurately representative of at the very least, upper echelons of Indian society. & so, it is assumed that what is depicted is real and hence okay. & it really is not. It just makes me sad to see that this mindset is still there in 2020. The capacity for us to have a number of these conversations to unveil these troubled and complex realities is enough evidence in itself.
Simren: In an overarching sense, considerations around diversity and representation in media are really key to me here. How is it that over a billion people in the country of India + millions of Indian diaspora are expected to be held within a singular value system of expectation in regard to gender, relationships etc. and are represented as existing within such?
As we discuss this show, it makes me question, especially for the non-South Asian community watching, what stereotypes of our community does the show perpetuate? For our own community, we must move beyond an acceptance that the show accurately depicts what happens in the matchmaking industry in India. It begins with critical discussions like these. Steps forward must include a push for the depiction of more authentically empowering narratives, beyond archaic and imposing stereotypes.