“Indian Matchmaking” Didn’t Need A Second Season

The only thing less enjoyable than being on an underwhelming first date is watching a series of other people’s underwhelming first dates.

When Indian Matchmaking first premiered in 2020, it claimed to offer an authentic look at arranged marriages and how they really function in the modern day. As far as dating shows go, it wasn’t a manufactured competition or “social experiment” like The Bachelor or Love Is Blind. It was about the process over the result. It dealt with sympathetic people and earnest journeys while educating people about a different kind of dating culture. Through Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia and her clientele, the worlds of “biodata” (essentially a résumé pitching yourself as a potential partner) family meetings, and “rishtas,” the Hindi term for relationships, were thrust into the spotlight. And with this attention came immediate controversy, as critics pointed out the show’s focus on matchmaking only within the most elite echelons of the Indian community and called out the way Indian culture was made to look “burdensome.”

Now, Indian Matchmaking is back for a middling second season. Since it wasn’t built on any kind of competition, there are no clear-cut “winners” or “losers.” But Season 1 ended without a single successful pairing being made, which somewhat undermines Sima’s authority as a coveted matchmaker. The show seems to understand this, too: Sima’s importance has diminished this time around. At best, she’s more of a figurehead representing the traditions the subjects seem interesting in upholding; at worst, she’s merely a convenience, a narrative linchpin holding disparate people’s storylines together by virtue of her job. But the overall effect of this is to dilute the specificity of the show, making it more of a generic tale of how people date.

She returns with a whole new roster of clients, but it’s the familiar faces who immediately pique interest.

Season 1 ended without a single successful pairing being made, which somewhat undermines Sima’s authority as a coveted matchmaker. 

Both Aparna Shewakramani, the picky lawyer from Season 1, and Pradhyuman Maloo, the coddled jewelry designer from Mumbai, are back, and they’re involved in dating side quests sans Sima. Aparna has moved to New York from Houston, goes on a few dates set up without professional help, and is attempting to be slightly more laid-back. Pradhyuman, who revealed in Season 1 that he had turned down a whopping 150 matches, has finally found love with girlfriend-turned-fiancé Ashima — whom he also met without the assistance of a matchmaker. The happy couple spend most of this season preparing for their upcoming nuptials, which Sima gamely attends and blesses.

Nadia Jagessar, the bubbly Guyanese American who lives in New Jersey, meanwhile, remains on Sima’s roster. While she is still talking to Shekar, the Chicago-based lawyer — the two hit it off when Sima matched them last season — the long distance between them has stymied their romantic relationship. Still, she doesn’t seem too troubled and throws a mixer for Sima and her clients, old and new, to mingle.

There wasn’t much interaction between the various clients in Season 1. The core cast were scattered across the USA and India, their stories only connected because they were all clients of Sima. Season 2, however, tries to expand beyond the earlier dependence on Sima at the core. As the clients talk at Nadia’s mixer, it feels like we’re supposed to be witnessing the start of something new. Aparna passes sage words of advice onto a new group of women; Nadia feels sparks fly with new client Vishal; friendships seem to blossom. While Sima looks on, beaming, she isn’t the heart of this gathering — or of the new season. The problem is it’s never quite clear who or what is supposed to take her place.

It’s not like Sima is gone by any means; the show is called Indian Matchmaking, after all. Every new cast member is one of her clients. They all bring relatively similar lists of requirements, seeking partners who have strong family values, a suitable balance of career ambition and interest in parenthood, and connection to their culture. And, of course, every single client has a very particular height requirement. To each of them, Sima dispenses virtually identical advice. “Compromise. Adjust. Be patient. Expect around 50% to 60% of your list to be possible.”

No client is particularly enthused about this, but they listen with varying degrees of receptiveness. From Akshay, an engineer based in a small town near Mumbai, to strong-willed Viral, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, to Arshneel, a cardiologist cautious about how women will react to dating a Sikh man with a turban, the beats of their Sima-sponsored searches for love play out all but the same. This isn't entirely unexpected; they are all going through the same process. But their individual journeys also don’t vary enough to provide any meaningful contrast.

Despite this throughline, the stories seem disjointed. And despite the fact that we know them well, the returning cast members’ stories only further the confusion. While Pradhyuman’s wedding preparations are an endearing arc, Aparna seems to be on a completely separate show. It’s easy to see why Indian Matchmaking brought her back. She was a standout in Season 1; her unapologetic stubbornness and willingness to hold her own against Sima’s authority and constant reminders to “compromise” were some of the most engaging elements of the series. But now that she’s off Sima’s roster, there isn’t really anyone for Aparna to go to loggerheads with.

There is something refreshing about watching her operate on her own terms, but nothing much happens. She goes on a few dates with a guy she met through someone she knows. She has new friends and likes her life in New York. As it happens, she moved to the city at the same time as Jay Wadhwani, the Atlanta-based entrepreneur she was matched with in Season 1, and although their romantic relationship never took off, they’re now friends, though we don’t see much of it past the first episode. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Aparna’s storyline, per se, but without the tether of Sima, the viewer is left scratching their head wondering what this has to do with the matchmaking aspect. After a brief check-in about her relationship status midway through the season, she disappears from the show entirely. Instead, we meet more new clients, but we never get to know any of them as well as we know Aparna. Nadia has a slightly more cohesive journey, as her journey remains tied to Sima. But again, the story of Nadia’s emotional whirlwind romance loses steam quickly and fades into the background.

There is no manufactured villain to root against, but there’s hardly enough time to make it clear who you’re rooting for.

This all points to the main crack in the Indian Matchmaking’s formula: namely, that Sima doesn’t actually appear to have much success as a matchmaker. Most of the series’ successful couples aren’t actually matched by Sima; rather, clients find partners themselves, outside of the show’s purview. The dates that Sima does facilitate have mixed results, but the overwhelming response from this season’s clients is that they don’t feel any chemistry. At times, this plays out in wincingly memorable ways — I was watching with my fingers covering my eyes as Viral pointedly asks her date, Jaymin, why he doesn’t look like his biodata pictures — but on the whole, it’s just awkward. The only thing less enjoyable than being on an underwhelming first date is watching a series of other people’s underwhelming first dates.

It’s not as awful as it could be — the clients all seem to earnestly want their search for love to work. The bad dates and fizzled connections aren’t sensationalized; on Indian Matchmaking, rejections are uncomfortable to watch but seldom feel mean-spirited the way they are in more histrionic dating shows. There’s something genuinely appealing about watching a group of well-adjusted, reasonable people try to navigate this experience. It is a soothing change of pace from the high drama and cattiness that often ensue on reality programs. But the lack of drama only emphasizes how disparate the various threads of the show seem. There are too many players and no clear plan for how to hone the focus. There is no manufactured villain to root against, but there’s hardly enough time to make it clear who you’re rooting for.

If Indian Matchmaking does have a main character, it is perhaps the institution of the arranged marriage itself. We see how arranged marriage functions in the modern world; it seems less like a terrible burden imposed on unwilling participants, and more like a systematic way for people to take their futures into their own hands. After all, when over 93% of married Indian couples have had arranged marriages, it’s surely worth understanding what the merits of the practice are.

That being said, the show tends to skirt any criticism of arranged marriage. While Western critiques of arranged marriage tend to focus on the most extreme, abusive examples, expecting Indian Matchmaking to answer for those would be like asking Selling Sunset to answer for the housing crisis.

But arguably, a show like Indian Matchmaking can do more than correct Western understandings of a common cultural practice. While this season doesn’t seem invested in proving the system’s successes — sorry, Sima Aunty, but the numbers just aren’t there — it could at least face up to the failures. There are plenty of intracommunity issues the series could address for its Indian and South Asian audience in particular, but summarily avoids, continuing Season 1’s tactic of breezily glossing over them. The clientele’s “preferences” are mainly played off lightly, as harmless desires for a man who’s at least 5’5”, or one who speaks Gujarati. But biodata and matchmaking preferences are notorious hotbeds for colorism and casteism; a “wheatish complexion” is such a common requirement in matrimonial ads that the phrase is almost a joke in Indian circles. Until 2020, the behemoth Indian matrimony website Shaddi.com included a “skin color” preference filter. Caste preferences are flung around just as casually, with many Indians not hesitating to cite “inferior” caste as grounds to decline a match — Sima herself had mentioned caste in Season 1, casually citing it as one of the many considerations involved in setting up a match.

None of these issues is explicitly addressed in Season 2. Perhaps the casting directors just rounded up a group of people who are genuinely unencumbered by that kind of bigotry and it really never came up. But it feels dishonest to casually air discussions about biodata and “compromising on your preferences,” totally divorced from this overarching framework of prejudice. And there are moments when hints of biases peek out. Arshneel admits he was “nervous” about dating a woman from India — as opposed to another Indian American —as he assumed she’d be regressive and old-fashioned. But the date goes well, so it’s played off as a feel-good “look what happens when you take a chance!” moment rather than an example of the internalized racism that runs rampant in diasporic communities. Many of the clients express a desire for “active/fit” partners, claiming that they want hobbies in common, but with even Sima commenting on how much her clients prioritize physical appearance, it’s hard not to question whether there is some anti-fatness underlying the request. But again, none of these instances are ever really examined. They’re breezed past for the next awkward date, followed by more placid suggestions from Sima to “compromise.”

This isn’t to say that this season lacks any appeal. I defy anyone not to smile at the When Harry Met Sallystyle interviews about marriage with Indian couples of various ages. The scenes where clients’ families confer excitedly over their son’s or daughter’s marital prospects are endlessly endearing and always relatable. And it’s hard not to grin at the matchmaker’s ever-present, slightly rehearsed-sounding, nonetheless affable catchphrase: “I am Sima from Mumbai!” It is ultimately a season that leaves you feeling good. You don’t feel like you’ve been reveling in other people’s humiliation or that the cast has been exploited by overedited, overdramatized confrontations that bear no resemblance to real life. If you want a pleasant romp spent sympathizing with people over the complications of dating, Indian Matchmaking Season 2 delivers. But it doesn’t add anything to what Season 1 achieved. The practice of matchmaking has flourished for thousands of years, and it isn’t going anywhere. It seems unlikely, however, that Indian Matchmaking can sustain that kind of longevity.●

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