Last year, Delhi Crime, a show that detailed the gritty and gruesome story of a young Indian girl who was abducted and brutally gang raped in India’s capital in 2012, became the first Indian show to win an International Emmy award. This year, Indian Matchmaking, a Netflix show that details the not-so-gritty, but definitely gruesome lives of rich and privileged Indians and Indian expats trying to find partners through arranged marriages, is the only Indian contender for the Emmy Awards.
And Indians aren’t too pleased.
When Indian Matchmaking was announced as a contender for the Emmy Awards in the ‘Unstructured Reality Show’ category alongside iconic shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye, Indians were shocked.
“We look at Emmy’s as progressive and trying to include more diversity of voices, so I was surprised when they nominated a show that is so regressive,” Srishty Ranjan, an anti-caste activist, told VICE World News.
When it aired, Indian Matchmaking was criticised for its problematic portrayal of arranged marriages in a way that glorifies regressive, sexist and discriminatory attitudes towards caste and skin colour.
India’s caste system is a 3,000-year-old form of discrimination that subjects people to structural and institutional exclusion, often violently, through a social hierarchy assigned by birth. At the bottom of this hierarchy are the Bahujan, a group that includes Dalits and members of outlier tribes who are categorised as “lower castes” and mostly live under oppressive circumstances.
“Arranged marriages in India are very much caste-based, so when you have a show that features a matchmaker going through biodatas that [explicitly] mention caste, or say the women should be ‘flexible’, you’re promoting ideas that harm Dalit women like me,” Ranjan said.
A Pew Research survey released last month found that six in ten Indians surveyed felt it was very important to stop inter-caste marriages regardless of gender. A report released by India’s parliament also found a 15 percent increase in atrocities against Bahujan women and children, while the conviction rate remained low.
Indian Matchmaking is told through the lens of the show’s lead character Sima Taparia, a jet-set matchmaker from Mumbai. Many, including cast member Aparna Shewakramani, have called out Taparia for referring to women like Shewakramani, who were picky about what they wanted in a partner, as “stubborn” and “not ready to sacrifice”, while never chastising the men who asked for the same.
The show also features families who only want girls with fair skin, who coerce their children into getting married before they’re ready, obsessed with finding people from similar financial and cultural backgrounds.
“There is a difference between depiction and endorsement,” Ankur Pathak, a film critic, told VICE World News. “It’s disappointing because this show looks at Indian marriages, an institution that already has so many problems, without any interrogation or criticism.”
While the show sparked a frenzy of memes, and was cringe-binged by millions, critics point out that the Emmy nomination may give it a value beyond its memeable appeal.
“While many of us watched it in an ironic capacity, giving it an Emmy tag adds legitimacy and draws in more viewers,” explained Pathak. “It makes people look at the show as something prestigious, but also undermines the Emmy Awards, which generally enjoy a strong sense of credibility.”
Many have celebrated the nomination as a sign of pride and progress for Indian representation abroad. But, critics are quick to point out that in Indian Matchmaking, the representation is one-sided, and even pulled up its unmistakable white gaze.
“The way it's packaged perpetuates the same stereotypes that Western audiences had about India because of no representation,” Poulomi Das, a film critic and culture writer, told VICE World News. “So for an audience abroad with no context about Indian culture, the show makes them believe that some [outdated] Indian traditions are the reality, without any interrogation.”
Netflix did not immediately respond to queries from VICE World News.