And no one can forget Akshay, a 25-year-old mama’s boy who consistently looks like he was roused from a nap and who learned how to feed himself and do his own laundry, like, yesterday. He is being pressured by his mother, who is almost cartoonishly overbearing, to get married on an arbitrary timetable she has in her head (she’s already planned the wedding, just insert bride). Watching him I wondered: How is this man, who can’t even stand up to his mother, capable of being a partner to any woman? On the bright side, his storyline makes everyone else’s mother-in-law seem a lot more tolerable.
Critics have been quick to point out how problematic the show is. For one, while the experience is familiar to many Indians and the characters are archetypes many of us know, it obviously doesn’t represent all Indians. Everyone shown is relatively well-off, and there are no queer or Muslim characters. But it’s a tall order to expect a show to tackle all of that in a single season. After all, “The Bachelor” is 30 seasons in and they only now plan to have a Black bachelor, there’s only been one Black bachelorette, no LGBTQ bachelor or bachelorette and certainly no size diversity amongst contestants.
The blatant colorism, sexism and weight-related comments we witness in “Indian Matchmaking” is jarring. There’s so much emphasis on “fairness” as a desired quality in a match, which is a reflection of racist ideology that permeates Indian society. And throughout the series, women are told they need to be “flexible” and “accommodating” and to lower their standards — something that none of the men are told to do. The thing is, none of this is news to people in the Indian community. It’s just that now, everyone else knows it, too.
“So what would an audience — namely a predominantly white audience — take away from shows like ‘Family Karma’ and, more urgently, ‘Indian Matchmaking?’” asks Buzzfeed’s Scaachi Koul. “That being Indian is a nuisance? That your family is constantly on your ass? That there’s no respite from the crushing, constant requirements set for you from birth? That our own inherent racism, classism and sexism is a scourge that no one is even attempting to fight against?”
Yes, yes and yes. That there is more to Indian culture than this small slice we see in “Indian Matchmaking” doesn’t negate the fact that this small slice rings true — however narrow the representation. It’s not the show that’s problematic, it’s our culture.
And while it’s embarrassing for this to be the content that defines us, there is an opportunity to hold ourselves accountable in shining a spotlight on the ugliest parts of who we are. It’s a deliberate editorial decision by creator Smriti Mundhra that now, more than ever, can bring about introspection as we all look at how we contribute to injustice. What the show serves to us is medicine with an addictive candy coating.
This show has sparked conversations all over the world — academic panels, a mountain of Op-Eds, transcontinental WhatsApp threads and memes galore — with Indians discussing the trauma of these everyday realities in a way that I’ve never seen happen before. We all knew this stuff was a problem, we just never knew how to address it. The show opened the door for dialogue, even with my own mom, who had an old-school style arranged marriage in which she didn’t meet my dad until the day of their wedding.
“Those moms are crazy,” said my mom, without a hint of irony, when I asked for her reaction. We talked about colorism and why it was wrong; how a family friend forbade her son from marrying a woman he loved because she was dark-skinned and what anecdotes like that say about Indians. We talked about how the burden of marriage in Indian communities is almost always shouldered by women. After years of touting how India has such a low rate of divorce, my mom finally admitted that maybe — just maybe — the reason for that is because women in the Indian community are stigmatized and ostracized if they get divorced, so it’s easier to stay in an unhappy marriage.
“The perception about what other people think has always been more important than what the individual thinks,” my mom said. When I asked her if anything changed for her after watching a few episodes of the show, she took a long pause, then said, “I think what the boy or girl wants should be more important than parental expectations. People should be able to marry whoever they want, or not get married, without fear of judgment.”
And that’s change — in real life.