Wedding.con, while being a reality series about matrimonial fraud, is also a revealing account of how Indian women look at themselves. Beyond the crimes examined by the makers is a sad chronicle of women crushed by and complicit in a culture of deeply embedded sexism.
The BBC Studios India production, directed by Tanuja Chandra, is out on Prime Video. Wedding.con approaches its theme with empathy and seriousness, but does not dig as deep as it could have.
Over five episodes, we meet women whose bank accounts have been eroded by men they met through matrimonial sites. The brave women share their stories in often wincing detail.
It’s not only about the vanished lakhs, the women assert. It’s the shredding of trust, the damage to self-esteem, the ridicule shown easily by family members, friends, colleagues and the police. One woman says that public knowledge of her entrapment has gutted her standing at her workplace: “If I say something, this incident is thrown in my face.”
While it’s easy enough to snigger at the victims and marvel at their gullibility, Chitra Raghavan, a Central University of New York professor, points out why even working women with independent means get conned. By understanding “what does the culture support” and “what is the woman yearning for”, fraudsters are more successful than is imagined, Raghavan says.
How can the usual warning bells possibly ring for the woman who gets her notions of romance from movies? Or the woman who says, when you’re told throughout your life that you’re worthless, even halfway-sincere affection makes you lower your guard? Looking for love, companionship, validation, “somebody who witnesses your life as it happens”, the women set aside niggling doubts, share passwords and let hard-earned money flow out of their accounts.
Wedding.con unfolds like a true crime show, rather than a reported documentary. There is too much focus on how the frauds unfolded – which challenges empathy for the targeted women – and not enough on the enabling culture that Raghavan speaks of.
Emails sent to a fraudster run into 700 pages, his victim is informed, and not merely 200 pages, as she had thought. So what? Raghavan speaks of how swindlers tend to overwhelm their marks, flooding them with information or requests that lead to confusion and hasty decision making.
This behaviour is not restricted just to bilking them. Surely Raghavan is talking about the average co-dependent relationship? Being on a matrimonial website is like being on a horror show, one woman says. It is so hard to meet a decent human being, says another. In moments like these, Wedding.con is less about matrimonial fraud and more about the perils of Indian womanhood itself.