Indian Matchmaking, the Netflix series about professional matchmaker Sima Taparia and her clients, has spawned memes, opinion columns and social media outrage across geographies. The eight-episode Netflix show has evoked such comments as “I dread the doorbell ringing and finding matchmaker Simi from Mumbai on the other side of the door” to “What do you make of a man whose favourite room is his walk-in closet?”
The show has been executive produced by Smriti Mundhra. Her credits include the documentary A Suitable Girl (2017) and the Oscar-nominated documentary St Louis Superman (2016). A Suitable Girl featured Sima Taparia and became the starting point for Indian Matchmaking. In an email interview, Mundhra addresses criticism of the series and reveals whether there will be a second season.
Was ‘Indian Matchmaking’ intended to be ironic and satirical or a socio-anthropological study?
It was meant to be honest to the world of one matchmaker and a specific set of clients, and a nuanced look at the search for a life partner, which is a loaded and often triggering topic.
Are you surprised at how the show has connected across the world?
I knew the show would be big, the biggest thing I’ve ever done, but I did not expect it to take off the way it has. But I’m extremely happy people are connecting with it and it’s sparking conversations around the world.
How did you select the candidates for the show?
First and foremost, it started with who was willing to go through this process with cameras on them. That prospect eliminated a lot of people from Sima’s list of clients. We also did some outreach on our own.
Of the group that was willing, we focused on the people who were the most open, ready to be honest and represented different points of view and different aspects of the Indian and diasporic experience.
Why are they mostly from the same faith – Hindus with one Sikh?
We needed to stay true to Sima’s world and clients, and be honest about the somewhat tribal nature of matchmaking. Within that, we pushed for as much diversity as possible without resorting to tokenism or stunt casting.
We have people from a variety of backgrounds – Sikh, Sindhi, Malayali, Guyanese, Punjabi, Marwari, etc. We also show a range of perspectives about marriage, including talking about the stigma of divorce in our culture. We did a lot in this first season but there’s a whole wide world out there and we look forward to widening the aperture even more.
There has been some criticism about colourism and body conformity, with Sima often mentioning ‘fair’ and ‘slim’.
This is the reality of how many people in our culture still think. To remove those references from the show would be to sanitize this process, rather than be honest about it. And plenty of participants in the series defy or refuse to conform to these standards, which I think is a powerful statement about how young people in India and the diaspora are changing in terms of what we should value when it comes to marriage.
There have also been remarks about the matchmaker’s role and narratives that do not look beyond heterosexuals.
The job of the show isn’t to sanitize the world of matchmaking and arranged marriage and make it seem more progressive and inclusive than it is. We tried to look at this tradition, which is so deeply rooted in our culture, with nuance and through multiple points of view, without denying that a lot needs to change. I hope the conversations started by the show will help to propel that change.
The documentary ‘A Suitable Girl’ was the starting point, but why limit the series to one matchmaker?
I’ve known Sima Taparia for 15 years and that gave her trust in me to do the show, and to ask her clients to participate in the show. This type of docuseries is still relatively new in India so hopefully, now that people have seen it, we will have more people interested in participating if we’re lucky enough to make a second season.
Was it a design not to show the way young people today interact – through dating applications, for instance?
We were honest to the experiences of the participants. The ones that have used dating apps in the past, like Nadia, Aparna, Ankita and others, spoke to those experiences.
The notions that women must ‘adjust’, be ‘flexible’ and the frustration with a career-minded woman seem to have upset some viewers who feel the series is playing up casteism, colourism, sexism. Millennials don’t really believe in ‘compromise’ either. What is your response to this?
There are 1.4 billion Indians in this world and each one will have a unique relationship with the idea of marriage. We told the stories of our participants as authentically as possible, recognizing that some have had the opportunity and support to really grow in their views, and others, particularly older generations, may still be chasing ideals that they have internalized over decades if not centuries. A lot has changed in one generation in India, but there are centuries worth of ideas and traditions to unpack and examine, and not everybody has had the chance to progress at the same rate. We should keep pushing for more dialogue around the problematic aspects of our culture, but also be patient with people who mean well but are not there yet.
Do you think the issue is with how politically correct we have become, which is why Sima Taparia’s unfiltered responses have shocked audiences?
I reject the idea of “political correctness” – that implies that the push for change and progress is performative. I think Sima vocalizes, in her matter of fact way, some real truths about aspects of our culture that need to be reconsidered. Many of these same dated and problematic ideals exist in other cultures, including Western dating culture, but are masked and hidden.
One article commented on how controlling parents disregard their child’s choice. Preeti’s hold over Akshay is somewhat disturbing, for instance. What do you think that dynamic conveys?
I think it’s easy to judge Preeti and Akshay. Progressing beyond conservative ideals is a sign of bravery, but also privilege. It usually means you have a support system and the social space to exist outside of the narrow confines of tradition. Not everybody has that privilege, and not everybody has had a chance to deprogramme themselves from the ideas they’ve internalized over generations. Not everybody believes they need to be deprogrammed!
I think Preeti and her son, and the rest of their family, are very closely knit and joke with each other a lot. They opened up to us about a very personal and vulnerable topic, and approached their participation in the show with both honesty and humour. It makes me sad that people are judging them so harshly.
Is the show aimed at Western audience, hence some of the cliches and stereotypes?
The primary audience for the show is Indians and the South Asian diaspora. But if it can give global audiences a more nuanced view of Indian matrimony, beyond child brides and forced marriage, then that’s a good thing. But, of course, different people will take different things from the show. Some will love it and relate to it, others will be critical of the world it presents. All perspectives are valid.
If a second season were to happen, what would you do differently?
Not so much differently, but I look forward to continuing to widen the aperture on the so-called “Indian experience” through even more diverse perspectives and experiences.