Altogether, it’s a little alarming that Indian Matchmaking features not a single Muslim match, just one or two individuals with heritage from South India, and only one whom we could call low-caste, though the show takes pains to not present it so bluntly.
Director Smriti Mundhra told Jezebel that she pitched the show around Taparia, who works with an exclusive set of clients. Perhaps that narrow focus expresses more about the stratification of Indian culture than it does about the producers’ biases—burt Indian Matchmaking touches lightly on the culture that creates these biases. The most explicit it gets is with the story of event planner Nadia Jagessar, who tells the camera she’s struggled to find a match in the past because she’s Guyanese Indian. This is code for a number of conditions: Nadia’s family, originally Indian, immigrated to Guyana in the 1800s, along with a vast influx of indentured Indian labor shipped around the world after the British outlawed slavery. Many consider them low-caste, or not “really” Indian; there is a suspicion of their heritage being mixed, carrying with it the stigma of being tainted. Yet the show merely explains that for many Indian men, bright, bubbly, beautiful Nadia is not a suitable match.
The parents task Taparia with following multiple stringent expectations. Some are understandably cultural, perhaps: A preference for a certain language or religion; or for astrological compatibility, which remains significant for many Hindus. Other preferences, though, are little more than discrimination. They demand that prospective brides be “slim,” “fair,” and “tall,” a ruthless standard for female beauty that’s also racialized—and while the demands are most exacting in India, they are bot exclusive to the subcontinent. Aparna, for example, euphemistically states her preference for a “North Indian”—which might sound innocent enough to the average listener, but to me sounded like just another way of saying light-skinned. In the final episode, a new participant, Richa, makes it explicit: “not too dark, you know, like fair-skinned.” As Mallika Rao writes at Vulture, it’s not exactly surprising, but whew.
Divorced clients are also subjected to particularly harsh judgment. Taparia bluntly tells one, fetching single mom Rupam, that she would typically never take on a client like her. The options she finds for Rupam are pointedly, pathetically, slim pickings; Rupam ends up leaving the matchmaking process after meeting a prospective match on Bumble instead.
In Delhi, Ankita Bansal’s story takes on multiple dimensions of exclusion and judgment. She’s both a career woman and one who doesn’t adhere to the Indian beauty standard; previous efforts to find a match have returned the feedback that she’s too independent or not attractive enough. Which is mind-boggling, because Ankita is gorgeous. But she’s also darker, curvier, and shorter than is ideal, and the fact that she started and runs her own company is a threat to men who are looking for a wife to run their household.
To Ankita’s credit, she rejects suggestions that she needs to change herself; she’s become a sort of heroine for Indian Matchmaking viewers, who cheer her for speaking out against this process’s constrictive standards while trying to find love. During her first date on the show, though, Ankita hits it off with a suitor only to have a meltdown, a few scenes later, upon learning that he’s divorced. Granted, some of the anxiety seems to stem from the matchmakers not informing her before their date that he had previously been married. But the failure of what was otherwise a charming first date goes toward illustrating how harsh the stigma can be in Indian matchmaking—and how discrimination cuts both ways.