Indian Matchmaking, an unscripted Netflix series starring matchmaker Sima Taparia (from Mumbai!) that most of us cringe watched last year, has now been shockingly nominated for Emmy Awards in ‘Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program’ category. This news has again sparked strong reactions and conversations on social media about why the show itself is problematic and undeserving let alone an Emmy nomination. As someone who holds a cultural location within India, a nominaton for Emmy gives some legitimacy to the show and portrays women from Indian roots in ways the patriarchal society wants them to be. Here are my reasons why Indian Matchmaking does not deserve an Emmy:
The Shows Promoted Gender Inequality: The show highlighted almost all sad realities of Indian arranged marriages where the entire onus of making adjustments and compromises in a marital relationship is on the women. Sima Taparia, often seen suggesting and convincing her prospective bride clients saying, “compromise toh karna padega” (one has to compromise), “thoda adjustment toh karna padega” (you have to adjust a little bit), or some version along those lines that patronise women into patriarchal norms and hegemonic structures of male-dominance and male- centeredness. Women characters were often reminded that if they are over or of a certain age, colour, size, or divorced, they would not have many choices (matches) to choose from, whereas many of the specifications (so called apt qualities) were ignored in prospective grooms such as Dilip, Srini, and Pradyuman.
The Show Openly Embraced Gender Stratification: The show portrayed ambitious and career-oriented women in a bad light. In the first 10 minutes of show, when Aparna, one of character in the show, told Sima that she is a lawyer, Sima said unflattering things about Aparna’s career choice, and I quote her, “If the females are lawyers in India, people are scared” (Really!). Sima transplanted a regressive Indian lens on Aparna despite the fact that Aparna is an Indian American and comes from a different cultural context, where challenges for women are different. Such regressive cultural ideologies limit employment and educational opportunities for women, leading to their financial dependency on the partner in the long term.
Similar arguments can be in the case of Ankita, another character from Delhi, who was attempted to be convinced by Geeta, Sima Taparia’s Delhi-based matchmaker contact, that her career and individuality does not matter when Ankita expressed she would like a partner who would understand how important Ankita’s identity as an entrepreneur is for herself. As a brother to sisters who has professional aspirations, I find this show problematic because it propagates cis-gender heteronormative patriarchy.
Expects Women to Limit their Choices: The show persistently portrayed that a woman must be submissive in the marital relationship. Strong and opinionated women were portrayed in a negative light because they knew what they wanted in their lives and in their partners. These women have been quoted “adamant,” “fussy,” “stubborn,” “picky” and conventional looking prospective brides to have the upper hand in finding their desirable partners. Sima was often seen on the show matching Rupam, a divorced doctor-mother character from the US, with other divorced clients of hers, which itself is a regressive way of assuming that the only option divorced people have is to get married to other divorced people because only divorce people would have “understanding” of her situation, indicating Rupam is perhaps banned for singles. Unsurprisingly, nothing worked out for Rupam on Sima’s show.
Glorifies Conventional Gender Uniformities: The show glorifies problematic and mono-chromatic ideas of marriage by exclusively focusing on heterosexual marriages, but what makes it more questionable is that it assumed many conventional gender uniformities. It showed how women had been trained and asked to make compromises but not men. For example, I found Pradyuman’s character inherently problematic because he is not ready to, and I quote him, “compromise at all.” Another character, Akshay, even indicated that he would like someone who has no career aspirations and exclusively stays at home and be the caring figure of his future children he assumed to have without his partner’s consent. I found both the characters conservative (“traditional,” as Sima Taparia says) and have internalised male chauvinism.
Promotes Women’s Exploitation and Denies Access to Power: We all know Preeti Aunty, who hired Sima Taparia to look for a “flexible” and not lesser than 5’3″ in height (really?) wife for her younger son, Akshay, even though he was not ready to get married in the first place but one of the under-discussed characters of the show that needs to be more in discussions was Preeti Aunty’s daughter-in-law who was also Akshay’s sister-in-law. I noticed how the daughter-in-law was being talked about in front of the whole family like an unopinionated family member and how she has been conditioned and indoctrinated to give up her reproductive rights. As a cisgender person, I may not be prescriptive about what/how others may want things in their lives, but we can advocate for everyone’s individual choice. In the daughter-in-law’s case, she did not have free will when she can have a child. Preeti Aunty was seen repetitively compromising the reproductive rights of her daughter-in-law, and Preeti Aunty should not decide when her daughter-in-law can have a child because it’s her body.
Many critics have said that the Indian Matchmaking show itself is a mirror to Indian society, and by being a mirror, the show itself is a critic. However, an Emmy nomination further legitimises the regressive practices of subjecting women of Indian origin as second-class citizens or look-down-upon in society and only goes ahead to create more heteronormative patriarchal violence on women. I find recognising a show like Indian Matchmaking with an Emmy nomination as an attempt to exoticise non-west culture for a white audience and, in many ways, for the Indian Diaspora, even though it might have been unknowingly. I say so because, on one side, Emmy has recognised shows such as Grey’s Anatomy that normalise queer and people of colour as positions of power and uphold the values of progressivism but selecting a show such as Indian Matchmaking is a polar opposite step by reinforcing gender binaries. An Emmy nomination will not invite critics that the show deserves but more celebration of what toxic is in our society, gives it a platform, glorifies it, and celebrates it.
Born and grew up in Delhi, Saurabh Anand is an educator and a Ph.D. student of language and literary education at the University of Georgia, USA. He dedicates this article to his sisters: Chetna Anand, Vineeta Anand Sangari, and Subhraleena Deka, who fearlessly challenge patriarchy every day.