What Indian Matchmaking cast members learned about marriage and themselves during the making of the Netflix series

Sima Taparia, the star of Indian Matchmaker, offers an inside look at today’s Indian marriage customs in the Netflix reality show.
PHOTO: Netflix

Indian Matchmaking , the Netflix show that follows Mumbai-based Sima Taparia as she matches privileged Indian singles in India and the United States, has become a cultural phenomenon after an explosion of memes, tweets and rants on social media since the premiere of the eight-part reality series on July 16.

Taparia offers an inside look at today’s Indian marriage customs as she unites couples and their families for a lifetime of love – provided they meet her checklist criteria of caste, class and complexion.

Through the series , we peek into the lives of seven singles who enlist Taparia’s services to find suitable life partners. Sima Aunty, as they call her, visits clients at their homes, interviewing them on their requirements and lifestyles.

Occasionally, she calls on her entourage of panditjis, or experts, including face readers and life coaches, before consulting an astrologer on the couples’ horoscopes and feeding all this into her database to find a potential match.

So why are viewers rage-watching the show? Indian Matchmaking comes with toxic cultural truth bombs and blatant absurdities, and it skewers the double standards the country’s foreign-educated upper-middle-class.

Despite Twitter rants against misogyny, colourism, casteism and beauty requirements, the show reveals that, in traditional Indian families, choosing a life partner is still very much a business transaction.

It is Aparna Shewakramani, a 35-year-old lawyer from Houston in the US state of Texas, who steals the show with her feisty 55-minute dating rule, skepticism of men who are ignorant about Bolivia’s salt flats, and blatant rejection of children at weddings.

Shewakramani knows what she wants and unapologetically speaks her mind. In the matchmaking universe, she is painted as the picky, rude antagonist and a headache to match, while the men on the show get away with being indecisive and shallow.

Shewakramani takes the backlash of tweets and memes from viewers in her stride, and believes the negative feedback stems from people who don’t understand the basics of reality TV. This is, after all, a snapshot; sound bites clipped from hours of dating footage, with so much left behind the scenes.

“It’s interesting to me to see people take such literal interpretations of these kinds of shows and form such strong opinions about two-dimensional characters they are meeting on screen,” she tells the South China Morning Post from Houston.

Through it all, she feels her personal growth has been more important than her relationship status, and that the unique experience has taught her about herself and her expectations, giving her a chance to grow.

Aparna Shewakramani on a date on Indian Matchmaking.
PHOTO: Netflix

“There have been a lot of changes for me. It truly is surreal to see a storyline created from your own life. A once-in-a-lifetime [experience]. There’s no way it won’t change you for the better.”

Though she didn’t find her match, she has walked away with lifelong friends and is delighted to still be in touch with dates Shekar (“Almost every day”), Dilip and Jay.

Shewakramani has no plans to slow down. Besides her legal career, she is building a luxury travel company called My Golden Balloon, which creates curated tours of cities like London and New York as well as bespoke itineraries for small-group holidays. Aside from that, she’s open to dating on Zoom.

Shewakramani on an “out of the box” date making French macaroons on Indian Matchmaking. PHOTO: Netflix

“Whether I find my soulmate through Indian Matchmaking has yet to be seen, but I believe that every chance I take is a stepping stone towards the right partner and that’s the beauty of the process.

As for season two, the world definitely seems interested, but as of now Netflix hasn’t confirmed it,” she says.

In the show, each of Taparia’s clients is deemed problematic in their own way. The matchmaker isn’t shy about calling them out and spouting clichés, her favourite being: “You will not get everything you want. You will have to adjust.”

She tells this to Nadia, the giggly Guyanese Indian who can’t get a break; Rupam, the divorced single mother; and even Ankita, the fierce and ambitious entrepreneur.

Jewellery designer Pradhyuman Maloo is another client who, like Shewakramani, raised eyebrows with his unrealistic requirements for a partner, having rejected 150 women from their photographs alone.

When his only interest seemed to be the “molecular gastronomy” food fad, Taparia packed him off for an appointment with well-known Mumbai clinical psychologist and life coach, Varkha Chulani.

Maloo says Chulani understood he was seeking a woman who was driven, passionate, with her own vision of how to live independently and also with him.

“When Chulani asked me to answer the same question from a woman’s perspective, she made me realise that women want a partner that makes them feel loved, secure, respected and can help them grow as an individual whilst growing together,” he tells the Post .

Pradhyuman Maloo on a date on Indian Matchmaking.
PHOTO: Netflix

From his experience on the show, Maloo feels that both his thought processes and perspective have evolved.

“The show has made me radically push boundaries to understand what I really want in a partner. It has given me the courage to truly open myself up to the intense process of matchmaking.”

Smriti Mundhra, creator of Indian Matchmaking , enlisted Taparia’s help herself in 2008 to find a match, so she is no stranger to the process. She eventually met her husband in 2010, without the help of a matchmaker.

Still, she believes that more people are resorting to traditional methods to find meaningful connections. Her ideas are supported by a 2013 Ipsos survey which found 74 per cent of Indians aged 18 to 35 prefer arranged marriages to the so-called “love marriage”.

Poster for Indian Matchmaking.
PHOTO: Netflix

According to Chulani, the show has become such a success because it strikes a chord with viewers who identify with “real” people who have “real” problems.

She adds that even though Indians pride themselves on having a modern mindset, the show frequently shows the opposite. “Fair and beautiful”, she says, is still a part of Indian psyche, as is the view that girls should adjust and compromise in matters of marriage.

“The show isn’t endorsing any ideologies, it’s just putting the honest realities out there,” Chulani says. “Yes, they are cringeworthy for some but for many that’s how relationships should exist in India. The narrative isn’t for or against. It’s reality that’s been showcased. And truths are sometimes bitter.”

Chulani believes Indian millennials are struggling to find life partners today because the country is confused. While trying to hold on to cultural family values, it is also trying to be modern and progressive in its outlook. The dissonance is creating anxiety.

Clinical psychologist and life coach Varkha Chulani.
PHOTO: Varkha Chulani

“The millennial is not sure which shoe fits and would rather postpone fleshing out what they really believe in and therefore push long-term relating into the background,” she says.

Is hiring a matchmaker the answer? Chulani believes it never hurts to get help, whether from a parent, app, friend or professional matchmaker. But it’s when there is an enforcement of moral judgment about correct and incorrect thinking and decision-making that getting help from parents can become problematic.

“Indian parents more often than not see their kids as extensions of themselves, so the involvement in every decision is fraught with over-emotionality,” she says. “Often it becomes about emotional blackmail and letting the family down rather than thinking about what’s best for the child.”

25-year-old Akshay Jakhete (seated, right) was the only one who seemed to find a match on the show. PHOTO: Netflix

Chulani feels that people need to be clear about why they want life partnerships.

Are they marrying because their biological clock is ticking, because they need someone to look after their parents, or because they want someone to cook for them? If they are, they’ll do all the “right” things for the “wrong” reasons.

“We need to underscore the idea that one hopefully marries because they believe that their life will be more enjoyable. The operative word is more. People by and large can manage themselves alone. The very fact that partnership is sought means that they believe that the other person will add value to an already valuable existence.”

Nadia Jagessar (right), one of the show’s seven contestants, shares an umbrella with a date as they walk through Chicago rain.
PHOTO: Netflix

Chulani’s advice to young, single Indians today is to look at themselves closely and know why they make certain choices.

“Do not marry because you are ‘lonely’. One can be very lonely in marriage as well,” she says. “Look for like-mindedness in value systems, outlook to life, and vision for what you want to accomplish with a partner.”

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.