Indian Matchmaking Review #4: It's High Time (that we have diverse representations of relationships)
Edited by: Simren Sekhon, Associate Editor
In the final edition of our Indian Matchmaking review series, we compare the docu-series with two of Amazon Prime’s web series, Made in Heaven and Four More Shots Please. The intention herein is not to position either streaming site against the other but rather to critically discuss what empowering representation already has the capacity to look like across web-series.
Khushi: Today, in the final part of our review series, we are going to compare Indian Matchmaking to different TV series produced within South Asian media. The idea here is to try and draw what we really mean by empowering representation and perhaps imagine how Indian Matchmaking can do the community greater justice, if there are future seasons.
Simren: To start us off, I think it would be worth comparing Indian Matchmaking to Made in Heaven. Both shows depicted the ‘marriage market’ in India in such different lights – one showing arranged marriages and the other the business of wedding planning. It’s really eye-opening when greater light is shone on these contexts and we are able to understand its complexities. It’s also bewildering to me, however, that the ideally sacred entity of a relationship is so heavily marketised and leaves so many in such turmoil.
We’ve spoken previously of how Indian Matchmaking showed no representation of the LGBTQ+ community whatsoever. Made in Heaven, in contrast, depicted the narrative of a gay man’s experience maneuvering the societal and romantic context he was in within India, even before Section 377A was repealed. In the show, Karan Mehra’s character had to navigate hiding his sexuality from his family, his landlord and was persecuted harshly by the justice system. We saw him hiding a whole part of his life and yet doing his best to thrive – which manifested differently at different points in the narrative. Seeing this gave me so much insight and this sort of diverse representation is what I continue to crave in my engagement with South Asian media.
Rishita: Definitely. To me, Made in Heaven was really a turning point across web-series and the potentiality it depicted for representation in our media. One of the episodes that was really powerful to me was when the girl walked away from her wedding because the groom’s family demanded dowry. Instead, she was clear that she was “not going to pay anyone to marry” her. Dowry was also not an issue discussed in Indian Matchmaking – I’d be curious to see what Sima Aunty would say when it’s brought up, would it be something women would have to “adjust and compromise” to? If they left out this part of the narrative on purpose, that’s also curious to me.
Ramya: I think it’s also worth adding that platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are often seen to be the space for more open, diverse representations that state censorship might otherwise prevent – this context had made me hopeful for what Indian Matchmaking could depict. Instead, to see problematic notions being perpetuated, as we’ve discussed, was quite disappointing. Nevertheless, shows like Made in Heaven give us hope this is possible. What’s particularly exciting is that Zoya Akhtar directed it – a renowned, female director in Bollywood, making the potentiality for the future of such shows even more exciting.
Rishita: For sure. Another show of note is Four More Shots Please – within which we see further representations of the LGBTQ+ relationships, like Umang and like Samara’s relationship. Herein, the journey of a girl coming out, embracing her sexuality and the nuanced complexities that come with that are depicted. The show also presents elements of matchmaking – like we see with Siddhi’s character. In the show, her mum insists that for her to find a suitable match, she needs to know things like Indian Classical Music and lose weight. Of course, these are notions also presented in Indian Matchmaking but Four More Shots Please shows us far more possibility for navigating such assumptions and instead empowering oneself. The challenges are depicted, and women are able to break necessary barriers.
Khushi: Definitely, I think it’s also worth mentioning that in relation to Siddhi’s character, or anyone else on Four More Shots Please for that matter, their narratives and vulnerable experiences were presented in an extremely visible light. This is what was extremely powerful to me – that moment of connection and authentic representation was evident in the first instance on screen, in a way Indian Matchmaking could never be for me. Take the representation of women’s sexuality for example, there was no effort to sugar coat traditional norms of ‘purity’ – we see women having one-night stands or navigating unfulfilling relationships – experiences which are relatable to so many women in India, in the diaspora and around the world.
You know, as I’ve been hearing feedback from our review series, people have been saying that Indian Matchmaking is just showing the “reality” of India and we just need to look at it differently. But I think this is possible in so much more of an empowering fashion. Made in Heaven was able to do that – be it the issue of dowry, or other traditions that actually happen, like a girl having to marry a tree before she is considered astrologically aligned to the groom. & all the better, it showed issues and marriages across religions, classes and geographies within India. It took on issues of sexism, racism, discrimination etc. and tackled them – which is what media should do.
Simren: Couldn’t agree more with you Khushi – people have said that to me too and that’s definitely my standpoint as well. I think what makes narratives like Four More Shots Please even stronger is that there was a real emphasis to portray the diverse and authentic narratives of four, strong female characters with depth and character progression. Also, the incredible, empowering support they provide for one another through all the ups and downs was powerful. Speaking from personal experience, my female friends are my greatest source of empowerment and seeing Four More Shots Please depict that truly resonated with my soul. Being a woman is to be riddled with controversy incessantly – be it decisions you make about what you wear, who you date, what you say, where you work: the show wasn’t afraid to take this on and uplift. & instead, in Indian Matchmaking, we have Sima Aunty effectively bringing down women because of their profession or opinions. Can we have more women supporting one another for their thriving in media please?
Rishita: Actually, what’s really ironic about Indian Matchmaking is that Sima Aunty kept saying that matches are made in heaven and only if the stars are aligned. But in Made in Heaven, they actually showcased that it is very unrealistic to believe that a marriage is always going to be ideal. Marrying a man is not the ideal, if the process of it does not allow you to be your best self and instead belittles you. Even when Tara Khanna’s character’s business depended on the success of these marriages, she chose to uplift the women she faced who weren’t being treated justly.
Simren: Another element to discuss that is relevant to several themes we’ve brought up before is the depiction of what a healthy marriage looks like and the struggles of not finding yourself in one. If you take the portrayal of Anjali’s character in Four More Shots Please, a divorced single mother, with how Rupam in Indian Matchmaking was made to feel, it was poles apart. The honesty with which we were able to see Anjali’s journey – be it the sexism she faced in the office, despite being ambitious and capable or co-parenting with her ex and delving into new relationships – it was all honest and in her vulnerability, there was incredible strength. Even if Indian Matchmaking did not want to use its platform for empowering narratives, I could not be happier that Rupam found her happiness beyond the show.
Ramya: The ultimate concept has to be that even if Anjali is a single mother, she is a whole person worthy of enjoying her life. We need to create a space in representation where women can be both things and more – being a mother doesn’t define your whole life, in the way that traditional norms may assume. The women represented in the show were also mostly self-made: so whatever mistakes and learnings they may have, I think it’s important to highlight that this did not undermine their value as a person and what they needed to thrive in their professions, friendships, relationships and lives.
Simren: Yeah, comparing these representations and drawing from our own lived experience as young, empowered women, the need to break these traditional constructions of what constitutes a woman could not be more pertinent. It’s about the individual as much as it is about how they occupy society and breaking the walls imposed. There’s so much beautiful, authentic diversity within the Indian community that deserves representation. & this is true for the Indian diaspora too. I read that Made in Heaven’s second season is to be set in Europe: I’d be curious whether they include international diaspora in the narratives that emerge.
I guess only time will tell but, in the meantime, I hope these conversations continue.
It’s been a pleasure ladies <3
If we’ve piqued your curiosity, check out the trailers for both shows mentioned:
Made in Heaven: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0UkDQaR5KQ
Four More Shots Please: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7NCW8gMtVs