The Math and Myths of Matchmaking

The Math and Myths of Matchmaking

‘Indian Matchmaking’ is a reminder that the joke is on us given the way we pine and pray for, pursue, plan and froth at marriages 

An overdressed Mumbai matchmaker named Sima Taparia. Some delightful unedited, conversations in English as She Is Spoke in India (“now let me take a leave…” “His argue was…”). Insightful mashups of confused and conflicted girls and boys trading tentatively in the shaadi bazaar from Bharat to Amreeka. Men with baggage from past relationships. Weight and baldness too. Women struggling with the mercury between independence and marital companionship. Blemished, pigmented skins that have (thankfully) not been smoothened with some sustainable collagen or filtered through smart lighting. Plus droning gyan on “flexibility” and “compromise” as the ultimate mantra to find and keep a spouse, makes Indian Matchmaking a match made for binge watching.

The recent reality matchmaking show on Netflix directed by Smriti Mundhra (Oscar nominated this year with Sami Khan for Best Short Documentary for St Louis Superman), is an engaging series. It is neither tightly edited nor is it stunningly mounted as an aesthetic cinematic canvas of life. Yet, in its search for a near-perfect spouse via an aunty with pasty makeup and a flair for feelings and failings, who flashes a tacky mix of faux and real gems, it tosses human imperfections into the frame. It is a two- way looking glass. From one side, it mirrors us Indians as “we are like this only” people, our familiar if cringe-worthy obsessions with caste, class, fair, lovely, “slim-trim” girls, mummy-dominated joint families with Oedipal anxieties playing out, astrology, astronomy, face reading (now edged with life coach advice), as routes to matrimony. Where female stubbornness is seen as “negative”.


Photo: Netflix

Aparna Shewakramani in an episode of Indian Matchmaking.

From  the other side, through the eyes of a global audience, we see “Indians” (not India though which is visually represented through a stock of clichéd images) as a people culturally wedded to the idea of marriage. India’s karma really lies in its fidelity to “marriage” as a rite of passage. The commitment we show towards creating and curating the Happily Never After is amazing. This series only echoes that.

That Mundhra also directed The Suitable Girl in 2017 while The Suitable Boy, a six-part drama adaptation of Vikram Seth’s novel by Andrew Davies, will go live on BBC1 next week is just a happy coincidence. Like many arranged marriages are.

Why the Joke is On Us

There may be many mindsets, young girls and boys, families and communities that live, breathe, dress, talk and behave outside the eight-days-a-week office of Marriage as a Checklist of Assorted Cultural Research. But, rising and empowered female singlehood, or as Simi Aunty says, “In India, marriages are breaking like biscuits”, does not diminish the conflicts of the people, their biases and foibles featured in Indian Matchmaking.


Photo: Netflix

(L-R) Astrologer Pundit Sushil-Ji and Sima Taparia in episode of Indian Matchmaking.

Finding a match through a cross-country matchmaker who blends astrology, social instinct and orange lipstick does look like a joke—but it also reveals the enervating, engulfing and difficult to shake off hegemony of marriage for Indians. It is a joke, the way we pray for, pursue, plan, execute and froth at marriages. And the way we endlessly retell these stories of our marriages, and of others through clothes, confessionals or courts. Indian Matchmaking is a reminder that the joke is on us.

The Democracy of Untutored Fashion

Looking at the series as a fashion commentator, I must confess moments of pure delight. Not since my book Powder Room: The Untold Story of Indian Fashion in 2012, have I found a hook like this to argue again that most people come across as dressed oddly, badly or carelessly given their skin tones and body types if you judge them through the prism of magazine style or “fashion”. What people actually do with fashion garments, jewellery, styling suggestions, makeup and beauty tools and the vast kingdom of global-local retail is vastly different from the way fashion looks on Instagram or in the glossies. Thank god.


Photo: Netflix

Akshay Jakhete in an episode of Indian Matchmaking.

Sima Aunty’s orange painted nails (well-manicured no doubt), cakey foundation, brassy hair straightened with a punishing iron, scarves and kurtas in big, bold prints and colours she shouldn’t touch with her hue of hair and the size of her blingy bracelets and rings underlines the fact that fashion in India will remain democratic and blissfully untutored. Style thrives of course, but far from a designer or stylist’s studio. Never mind the How-To lists that float around on social media or the TikTok tales of fashion bloggers trying to “convert” the fashionably naïve. No, thank you.

Indian Matchmaking reminds us yet again that taste in clothes and jewels is a luxury of the few. As are progressive fashion and beauty ideas. The rest of the world continues to live anyway in what we label as “inclusive” clothes. People have diverse, self-ordained dressing impulses that may be a disaster in fashion books but nobody minds them. In the real world, being plus-sized, blemish-skinned, bald, bold, beautiful, brazen, or even boring is easier and sans commentary.


Photo: Netflix

Ankita Bansal in an episode of Indian Matchmaking.

Houston-based Aparna Shewakramani’s (among those seeking Sima Aunty’s services) wears an outsized topaz blue pendant on an odd-sized chain with an orange dress. Ouch. The “slim-trim, tall and jolly” Nadia Jagessar, a Guyanese, has matte, un-glossy blonde streaks in her long wavy hair and yet looks really good throughout. Delhi-based Ankita Bansal, co-founder of a denim wear brand who talks about being judged in the marriage market in the past for her not-so-perfect appearance, has an un-self-conscious style in strappy dresses. Damn your beauty tutorials and style guides, says Indian Matchmaking. Oh well, damn right.

Mumbai’s Pradhyuman Maloo, privileged, pampered, fair and tall (eyes rolling here), who cooks fancy food and serves it like the jewels he designs for a living, doesn’t just have a walk-in closet for himself. He also has one choked with silken couture for bejewelled idols of gods. In the Maloo home’s shrine lives a miniature couture closet for the gods! That is India bhaisaab. In Houston, Aparna’s mother gives her a blue sapphire ring encircled with diamonds, so that she could follow astrologer “Dilip Uncle’s” advice that a sapphire will open her mind and matrimonial success. I loved Dilip uncle by the way; the way he raps Aparna for her arrogance without once uttering the word, he deserves a job in Facebook’s apologies and communications team.

Some phrases like the Indian chalu (clever) are explained through supers on the screen. So do not blame the Sindhi in me for laughing aloud when “Sindhi” is explained as “persons belonging to the Sindh province of Pakistan, once a part of India.”

Indian Matchmaking is unintentionally funny in many ways. But its insights can retrospectively scare you about marriage. And orange lipstick.