By Nabeela Hussain
If you live in India and are aware of the recent social media trends, you must have come across the show ‘Indian Matchmaking’, which is among the top watched shows on Netflix India’s homepage right now. The show follows the lives of Indian individuals trying to get married through a matchmaker based in Mumbai, Sima Taparia. Another lesser known Netflix venture that she was a part of, was a documentary titled ‘A Suitable Girl’.
Indian Matchmaking is regressive in terms of a lot of aspects, be it the blatant colourism, casteism or the misogynistic views of Sima herself, but at the same time, many have found it undeniably binge-watchable.
For me, after finishing the show, a sort of guilt manifested inside my head. The fact that I had enjoyed the humour and looked past the controversial aspects of Indian Matchmaking was something that kept bothering me. It was only some time after watching the Indian Matchmaking that I discovered this was not Sima’s first stint with the camera. ‘A Suitable Girl’ was released in 2017 and was received widely in a number of film festivals. This documentary looked at matchmaking too, but this time without the comedy or the quirky frills, with its focus on three women struggling to cope with the pervasive pressure to find a spouse. Interestingly, the executive producer and creator of Indian Matchmaking and the co-director of A Suitable Girl is the same person – Smriti Mundhra.
In A Suitable Girl, Dipti hails from Bhayandar in the outskirts of Mumbai, and even though she teaches kindergarten children and has a kind demeanor, she is unable to find anyone for marriage. She turns 30, and all who come to celebrate from her neighbourhood have wishes for her – but their primary wish is that she gets married soon. Her un-marriageability is attributed to her being overweight and to not living in a certain sort of locality, and soon enough, Dipti starts giving up when her inner worth gets continuously neglected. She has tried a number of things, including being a candidate for a ‘swayamvara’ ceremony where men show up in a room, are called out one by one and their birth date, education, salary are revealed. Her mother says that she doesn’t eat anything; she herself states that she feels highly depressed but puts on a brave face just for her parents. Ultimately, when her marriage is finally on the cards, her mother starts crying as it is unbelievable, since there have been so many unexplained rejections before.
Amrita is another young woman in A Suitable Girl. She is from Delhi. She is educated and loves to party. She is to marry Keshav Jhanwar, someone whom she has been seeing for years. Keshav promises her that she will be able to continue working after marriage, but they shall be shifting to his remote hometown Nokha, 400 miles from Delhi. Six months into the marriage, Amrita practically takes over all household work, looking after everyone but herself and her dreams. She cannot wear western clothes and continuing work seems far-fetched, something that Keshav attests to. Amrita ends up facing an identity crisis, because everyone knows her as Keshav’s wife, even when she asserts that she has her own name and identity too.
Sima Taparia comes into the picture when Ritu is introduced. An MBA graduate working at Ernst and Young in Mumbai, she is a driven young woman and also, Sima’s daughter. Ritu describes her mother as a socialite, and says that Sima wants Ritu to be like her, instead of focusing on her career and not being in a hurry to get hitched. Being a marriage consultant, Sima faces even more pressure from her well-wishers, who taunt her for her ‘inability’ to find someone suitable for her own daughter, despite being a marriage consultant. This pressure inevitably gets passed on to the daughter, and she eventually ends up with Aditya who works in Dubai. Despite having a similar academic background and ideology, he explicitly states how he wishes he were born an European, so that he could marry even post 40, and choose someone other than Ritu as his companion.
Watching A Suitable Girl made me look at Indian Matchmaking and Sima Taparia through a different lens, leading to an understanding of a much deeper, more troubling picture of this marriage system and the obligation for women to just get married – even if that meant setting aside their own aspirations for it.
A Suitable Girl points towards the looming reality that marriage for a woman is, in the Indian social structure, but what needs to be understood is, how it can complicatedly mentally affect young Indian women. They are usually the ones who struggle for autonomy, become selfless, actually do end up compromising and adjusting, and ultimately may even give up their own identity in the process – all this simply stemming from the pressure that society inflicts upon them. Their struggle doesn’t end there, and A Suitable Girl also attempts to capture this – they have to continue to fight for this coveted status they have somehow managed to achieve, constantly justifying why they do not deserve to be married off before they actually wish to.
Living in an environment where I had not come across such an approach so brazenly, the documentary A Suitable Girl deemed eye opening and in a way, heart wrenching. I am in no way stating that the dilemmas that men face during marriage should be negated, neither am I accepting Sima’s misogynistic mindset, but when you see her and other women cry in A Suitable Girl, there is an inherent urge to simply feel for them. I recommend A Suitable Girl to all who wish to see a more well-rounded picture of Indian marriages mainly from the female perspective, something that will make you reconsider laughing at the humour of ‘Indian Matchmaking’ in retrospect.
Nabeela Hussain is a History honours undergraduate at Ramjas College, University of Delhi. Feminism for her has been a process of conscious learning with the result always being positive. By increasingly engaging in dialogue regarding the same as well as regarding equality amongst different social identities alike, she hopes to bring about a change in outlooks in the long run, albeit a small one. She can be found on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Hollywood Reporter