NEW DELHI: Its local Indian offerings may have met with tepid response of late, but Netflix’s latest American original that deals with the age-old Indian arranged marriage rigmarole has stirred a debate in the country. Titled Indian Matchmaking, the eight-episode web show that launched on the service late last week follows Sima Taparia, ‘Mumbai’s number one matchmaker’, in her own words, as she coordinates proposals for young Indians within the country and abroad.
Perpetuating stereotypes of colourism, casteism and sexism about the country, the creators forget that Indian millennials and their families have come a long way after battling these societal norms for years, netizens argue. Episodes titled ‘Slim, Trim and Educated,’ ‘Just Find Me Someone,’ ‘It’s High Time’ and ‘Adjustment and Compromise,’ among others, have been the subject of much ridicule and many memes in India over the past weekend.
Youngsters are calling out the American platform and creator Smriti Mundhra for judging people by their looks and also for making marriage seem like an accomplishment and necessity even as men and their families specifically searched for women who could stay home and look after children. All of this as they binge-watched the show. Indian Matchmaking ranked three in Netflix’s top 10 list for India on Tuesday morning.
“How the hell did Netflix produce a programme like Indian Matchmaking? It is wrong on so many levels. Some of these things are appalling - sexism, classism. I, however, cannot stop watching it," a user tweeted. The Print review said the show ‘is the kind of aunty gaze nobody needs to see highlighted, or worse, glorified.’ Many others spoke of the absurd depiction of Indians to the world ‘with parents pre-buying jewellery and clothing for a certain neck, hand and body size and then deploying professionals who roam the world to fill that boy or girl-shaped hole.’
Netflix declined to comment on queries from Mint. But show creator Mundhra takes the criticism head on in a recent interview to entertainment and pop culture site Decider.com.
“(We) were not trying to shy away from any uncomfortable conversations…what’s real is real. My hope is that it (the show) will spark a lot of conversations that all of us need to be having in the South Asian community with our families — that it’ll be a jumping off point for reflections about the things that we prioritize, and the things that we internalize," said Mundhra who has helmed documentaries like A Suitable Girl, a far less glamorous take on the arranged marriage set-up and St. Louis Superman, that was nominated for an Oscar last year.
Interestingly, another Netflix show, Never Have I Ever, a coming-of-age comedy drama about an Indian American teenager that came out this May, had also drawn flak for its tone-deaf stereotypical depiction of the south Asian community. In an interview with The Huffington Post, its director Kabir Akhtar had emphasized that it’s unfair to place the burden of a collective identity (such as a community) on one show that can’t be fully identifiable for everyone.
But several content experts are quick to point that what may seem like complete absurdity to some of us living in India, is a reality, especially for Indians settled abroad who wage a constant battle to hold on to their identity.
“We may get offended easily but the truth is we can’t sweep these things under the carpet. Plus, India is not the only market for Netflix, it could also be looking at the diaspora," said Uma Vangal, filmmaker and professor at the L.V. Prasad Film and TV Academy. As far as stereotypes about India on a global stage go, the tradition has already been carried on by scores of Bollywood films over the years that play to the gallery with much melodrama and flashy song-and-dance to cater to NRIs, be it Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge or Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham. On the other hand, there are movies like Slumdog Millionaire and Water, either shot in India or made by Indian Americans that choose to focus on and romanticize the poverty and inequality prevalent in the country.
“That is a false impression that is equally damaging," Vangal said.