“Indian Matchmaking” is one of Netflix’s latest dating-centered reality shows. However, with its ties to a historical, cultural tradition, the show is a bit different from series like “Love is Blind” and “Too Hot to Handle” that premiered earlier this year.
Netflix describes the show: “over 8 episodes, elite Indian matchmaker Sima Taparia learns about her clients with painstaking precision… as she guides them toward their perfect match.” The key word here is “elite.”
Ruchika Tulshyan, an Indian woman who had an arranged marriage in her early 20s, told NBC News, “I actually found the show to be something that really did resonate with my experience… Unfortunately, it reinforces some of the very negative parts of India today. I was disappointed, of course, there’s colorism, there’s casteism, there’s a lot of emphasis on traditional beauty.”
Colorism so permeates “Indian Matchmaking” that it actually bookends the series. In the first episode, Taparia lays out prime partner qualifications: “They want tall. They want fair. They want from a good family.”
In the show’s final scene, the audience has seen enough now to know when a client is being picky. The new client seems like a nice girl, but it’s supposed to be laughable as she rattles off her long list of traits for her ideal future husband: “Somebody who’s got ambition… Not too dark, you know, fair-skinned. Then someone with strong family values.”
Other instances of colorism include client Aparna’s criterion for her match to be Indian-American of North Indian descent (People in northern India generally have lighter skin) and Taparia describing one of her clients.
Can there be progress with flaws?
The casualness of the show’s colorism is reckless ignorance, especially considering skin-whitening products comprise half of all skincare products in India. In fact, director Smitri Mundhra told Jezebel that the show might have been green-lit a decade ago if it had been about a white person. According to Mundrha, a television producer said, “Well, it could maybe work if you have a white person who she match-makes and you follow that journey through the lens of a white person.”
Mundrha is well aware of the show’s backlash. “Indian Matchmaking” highlights successful, decades-long arranged marriages, but it also prompted numerous women to speak up about their own scarring experiences with the process. Still, Mundrha defended the series to CNN, noting there is no one way to capture the diverse culture of over a billion people. “Hopefully the show sort of kicked a hornets nest and gets people thinking within themselves, talking within their own families and on social media. I think that will open the door for even more sorts of varied experiences and even more accountability.”