Throwing light on the highly controversial Indian (and Pakistani) wedding and matchmaking culture, a new Netflix original reality series has stirred a debate online and received mixed reviews about the toxicity ingrained in the country’s age-old process of finding a life partner. The show is currently trending at number four on Netflix Pakistan.
The eight-part series Indian Matchmaking premiered on Netflix on Thursday and is currently among its top-ranked India shows. It features Sima Taparia, a real-life matchmaker from Mumbai, who offers her services to families within India and abroad. As the show gains traction, the one question which is crossing everyone’s mind is ‘Who really in Sima Taparia’?
In a recent interview, Taparia, who hails from a small town of Gulbarga in Karnataka, opened up about herself and revealed that she always wanted to be famous.
“I always had great ambition and wanted to make something of myself so people far and wide would know my name,” she says.
However, her marriage was arranged when she was just 19 and because her in-laws were from an orthodox family of Marwaris, she never really got a chance to work on her dreams.
But as fate would have had it, the small-town girl has become a sensation ever since her series streamed on Netflix.
On how she ended up in this business, Taparia said that she considers herself a natural born matchmaker.
“I am an extrovert and so I am very social and I love meeting new people, talking to them and finding out little details that I lock away in my brain,” says the 57-year-old.
“When people come to me saying they have a son, daughter, nephew, niece or a grandchild who is looking to get married, I immediately start thinking of all the people I know of who could be a good match,” she explains, adding that she is always mentally matching people. “I have found matches for people when I was on vacation in Zermatt and in Interlaken and even when we were in the Canadian Rockies, I was on duty matching people up. Hell, I have even matched people up while waiting at the luggage carousel at Mumbai airport.”
Ever since Taparia set up her matchmaking bureau ‘Suitable Rishta’, based out of her apartment in the midtown Mumbai neighbourhood of Worli, she has brought hundreds of couples together in India as well as in diaspora communities around the world.
Taparia follows a tried and tested approach that she has found success with. “I go and meet the boy and the family, see what their home is like, where they work, where they have been to school,” she explains. It’s not just the information the family provides but unsaid details she has learned to pick up over the years.
“This helps me assess their lifestyles so I can recommend a match that is on an even keel. This is where Tinder, Bumble and Shaadi.com can’t compete. I get to the bottom of things, finding out all the inside stories, the family’s values and other such details you would never get from looking at a person’s online profile,” says Taparia.
She further shared that she only works with “high-profile clients”.
“In India when I meet clients they usually have a working wedding budget in mind. So based on that golden number, I quote my price that I charge as a lump sum,” said the match-maker.
Following the series’ success, Taparia’s phone has not stopped ringing.
“Now young people who have seen the series have been getting in touch with me from all around the world and people in India are asking their parents to get in touch with me to find them partners like Nadia and Aparna,” she says.
Netflix’s ‘Indian Matchmaking’ divides the internet
Meanwhile, the show has the internet divided. The show has become a subject of memes and jokes, and criticism, on how individuals and their parents are picky and have a long list of demands that centre around factors like caste, height or skin colour.
The show “makes very clear how regressive Indian communities can be. Where sexism, casteism, and classism are a prevalent part of the process of finding a life partner,” wrote Twitter user Maunika Gowardhan.
Thousands of Twitter and Instagram posts echo that view. “The show is simply holding a mirror to the ugly society we are a part of,” Vishaka George, another Twitter user, wrote.
Created by Oscar-nominated director Smriti Mundhra, the show focuses on matchmaker Taparia’s visits to the homes of families who need her assistance. After hearing their demands, she presents résumés of prospective matches and then arranges meetings between them.
“The two families have their reputation and many millions of dollars at stake. So the parents guide their children,” Taparia says at one point in the show, referring to some of her wealthier clients.
In the first episode titled Slim, Trim and Educated, an Indian mother tells Taparia her son is getting a lot of marriage proposals but in most cases, the prospective bride’s education or height was not ideal.
Just as Taparia says: “So you want a smart, outgoing, height …” the mother interjects, “I won’t even consider (a girl) below 5 feet 3 inches.”
Some have praised the show for its honesty and treating its subjects respectfully.
“The hate against it is, frankly, baffling … Indian Matchmaking is well on its way to becoming a cultural phenomenon,” a column in the Mint newspaper said.