I’ve never been a big fan of reality tv. The over dramatization, the sometimes terrible performance, but mostly with a background in television I know how nothing is as it seems.
But one reality show recently got me hooked, and at times annoyed and even cursing.
Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking was entertaining. It ticked all the boxes for good television characters – drama, villain, damsel in distress, nice guy and more. It was like Disney before Pixar, and many of us in the UAE watched it and loved (to hate it too) at times. It landed on our shores peaked interest a little later than other parts of the world, but evoked heightened emotions toward the series nonetheless.
One of the characters that got many of us riled up was Aparna. The seemingly difficult Texan was introduced to viewers in the first episode as having an endless list of demands for her ideal partner. Through the show, that narrative developed as it appeared that date after date she was unsatisfied, condescending and difficult. From her disapproval of one suiter’s ignorance over Bolivian Salt Flats, to her mother’s strong opinions and role in her story, Aparna became the ‘marmite’ of the show – you either loved her or hated her.
I was not a fan of her attitude. Several episodes in, and by now I was already unimpressed by her approach to the process. Her very strong opinion against South Africa and Dubai as good travel destinations sent my overall approval rating view over the edge. But, like many others, I lost a little perspective on how I consume media, and how manipulative the puppetry behind what we view and build our opinion on actually is.
Indian Matchmaking showcases the still popular tradition of arranged marriages in India and among Indian communities In the United States. Those in favor of the concept of matrimonial arrangement will argue its proven success, with India boasting one of the lowest divorce rates globally. But societal pressure, cultural practices and family influence play a pivotal role both in marriage and decisions, and there are many concerns around the rights of women in the country too.
Regardless of where you stand on the practice, it is still a popular transactional commitment often securing two family’s future in terms of wealth, business and future generations.
I have a mixed background that is primarily Indian in terms of heritage several generations back. While threads of Indian culture are certainly weaved into some of our family practices, I identify as South African. Over 4 generations of my family have been born in South Africa, and India is no different to any other travel destination. I find the culture fascinating and intriguing, I love that the beautiful clothing, some of the celebrations have evolved into being part of certain wedding practices and the delicious dishes have taken on a facelift and land on our lunch and dinner tables. But that’s the beauty of migration and evolution.
I’ve never understood the appeal of an arranged marriage. My maternal grandparents were arranged to be wed at a young age, and it was something I respected but didn’t quite get my head around. However, there are women my age that feel differently. Women who believe that the wisdom and guidance of their parents goes beyond their years. There’s place in the world for each and every system, mindset or methodology. After all, marriage, however precipitated, is a gamble for everyone.
And that was the driving force that brought these young hopefuls to our screen – the promise of finding love, and a life partner. Perhaps knowing their documented search through age old methods would attract that much vitriol and criticism may have inhibited their willingness to participate. Perhaps knowing that their hours of interaction, dating and trust placed in matchmaker, Sima from Mumbai, would be cut into minutes of crafted pre-determined characterization would have deterred them. Perhaps that is the real demon of the show.
Much of Aparna’s character has been vilified; made to be the subject of memes, gifs and internet disapproval almost instataneously. Her dislike for beach holidays, certain spectator sports and her very articulate approach to what she is looking for in her husband has been, for the most part, branded as difficult or insufferable by some leading titles. But is it really?
When you take into account the cut and paste perspective of her character, (along with everyone else’s), and the hours of footage viewers will never see, are the opinions formed, the disapproval shared warranted?
‘What I meant by that was, The way I am today, I’m very proud of that. I’ve done all these things to evolve myself and grow. I still feel the same way: If someone meeting me wants to change fundamental things about me, I won’t change, at this point.’ – Aparna for Oprah Magazine on her statement that she will never change for a man.
Aparna’s interview was very interesting. Large parts of my perception about her were questioned in the lead up as I researched and analyzed different people’s perceptions of the show. Even bigger chunks of my initial impression was changed completely. And some things stayed the same. Ultimately, like with all of us, everyone will form their own opinions and walk away with a unique take on a person’s character – and that’s life.
On the tail end of our conversation I think she is a very intelligent and strong woman. I think her direct approach reached out to many women who may struggle to find their voice against cultural stereotypes. Even personally, I should have known better than to form such strong opinions based on what I know is a tiny fraction of a person, that has been put through the grinder of an editing suite with the ultimate goal of audience rating, and good reality tv. She was great to chat to, and despite differing perspectives even during the interview, I see her as a determined women who bravely, without losing hope for her true goal of finding the perfect partner and the lessons in every experience. That, I can only respect. She knows what she wants, and is determined to find it.