I updated my list of Bollywood movies on Amazon Prime with today’s debut of the lavish Hindi period drama Jubilee. The first four episodes released today, with four more episodes to follow on April 14 (the afternoon of April 13 in the United States).
Indian Matchmaking took Twitter by storm as soon as it premiered on Netflix. Perhaps Delhi Belly actress Poorna Jagannathan summed up the early reaction best with her tweet: “#IndianMatchmaking was horrifying. Also, #Netflix, how soon can you drop season 2 (asking for a friend)”.
Indian Matchmaking features Mumbai-based professional matchmaker Sima Taparia trying to find suitable partners for singles in India and the United States, setting them up on dates and bringing in experts like a life coach, astrologer, and face reader when necessary.
The series is quick to get through, with most of its eight episodes clocking in at under forty minutes. The first episode introduces three characters who are effective hooks: likable Nadia from New Jersey; Texas lawyer and excellent reality TV villain Aparna (who at one point says, “You know how I hate comedy”); and Mumbai jewelry designer Pradhyuman, who would rather be anywhere else than on this show and is cringey to watch as a result.
But Indian Matchmaking has some serious issues, often because of what goes unchallenged by the show. Yashica Dutt wrote a great article in The Atlantic about the show’s inherent casteism. Taparia frequently touts potential prospects’ “fair” complexions, but the show doesn’t address the obvious colorism in her remarks.
Part of the problem is that Indian Matchmaking — a Netflix Original series — was made with no input from Netflix India. It’s an American creation from Los Angeles-based filmmaker Smriti Mundhra, who was apparently the only South Asian involved in the production, according to Variety.
Besides the show’s social and cultural problems, there’s also the fact that it’s just not that well made. Mundhra received awards for her 2017 documentary A Suitable Girl, which also deals with arranged marriage and also stars Taparia. But a 90-minute film is different than an 8-episode series, and Mundhra doesn’t nail the transition from one medium to the other.
Casting is an issue. Over a hundred potential subjects were narrowed down to eight people willing to have their romantic lives scrutinized on TV. Of the eight, the only reliable content generator is Aparna, who appears in five of the show’s episodes. Nadia is gone after three episodes. Pradhyuman’s exit in Episode 5 overlaps with the introduction of the series’ most tragic figure, Akshay — another rich Mumbai guy who wants even less to do with the show than Pradhyuman, but whose overbearing mother Preeti is so desperate to show the world how wealthy her family is that she happily sacrifices her son.
Akshay features in four episodes, as does Texas school counselor Vyasar. Delhi fashion designer Ankita stars in three, while single mother Rupam is only in two episodes. The eighth and final single is a woman whose name I don’t even remember who is introduced in the last ten minutes of the series.
If Mundhra intended for each cast member to get his or her own episode, that clearly wasn’t going to work. Besides the two cringey guys who didn’t want to be there, a couple of the women realized during filming that there were either better ways to meet available men or that they weren’t as interested in marriage as they thought they were.
To make up for that lack of usable material, Mundhra stretches storylines in some places and recycles them in others. Episodes 5 and 6 both end with Vyasar mentioning his need to have the same important conversation with his date, Rashi. If that conversation ever happened, it didn’t make it into the show.
Almost every character’s story ends with them on a positive date, but with no clear closure to their storyline. Aparna does goat yoga with a nice guy named Jay, and then she’s just gone. I guess we’re supposed to assume that they lived happily ever after? (The LA Times, Oprah magazine, and Esquire wrote follow up articles about whether any of the relationships formed on the show succeeded.)
Beyond the more serious negative cultural impact of Indian Matchmaking, bad casting and deceptive editing make the series unsatisfying to watch. I’m sure it’ll get renewed for a second season, but I don’t need to see it.