India is not just arranged marriage and curdled rice

While arranged marriages continue to find favor with many, the nature of them has changed in many ways today.

The topic of social media discussion this week was the Emmy-nominated web series “Indian Matchmaking” in the Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program category. Indian Twitter got dizzy that a reality show about Indian arranged marriages could actually get an Emmy! While Indo-American director / producer Smriti Mundhra must be elated, Indians are apparently less so. The other notable American of Indian origin who is in the running for an Emmy is Padma Lakshmi, nominated for her Bravo TV show ‘Top Chef’ with which she has been associated for many years now.
Smriti Mundhra is an Oscar nominated filmmaker and focusing on Indian arranged marriages as the subject of her Netflix series seems a bit surprising. As progressive and liberal men and women in India attempt to move away from the concept of ‘arranged marriage’ which perpetuates the caste hierarchy, here is a show that celebrates this discriminatory practice and in fact glorifies it as the “” Best “method of finding a partner for the bride or groom. Obviously, the conservatives and the traditional will vouch for the success of arranged marriages, but this is highly questionable. Matchmaker Sima Taparia and her colleagues generously add words like “picky”, “picky”, “stubborn”, “rude” and “flexible” to describe the groom or bride-to-be in this proposal that trivializes the individual. Some have said that the “ugly truth” of arranged marriage has finally been revealed, but did “Indian Matchmaking” really do what one wonders.
While arranged marriages continue to find favor with many, the nature of them has changed in many ways today. The most important point is whether this “Indian matchmaking” is what India stands for and whether it is what we want to portray to the world as Indian. But then, show business is business and if a show like this sells, then there is always someone willing to produce it. Even if it highlights an ancient tradition that many Indians try to move away from – literally and figuratively.
Coming to Padma Lakshmi, she is a famous American author, activist and TV host as we all know. Born in Chennai, she moved to the United States at the age of four and the rest, as they say, is history. While it’s exciting to see someone of Indian descent being nominated for an Emmy, Padma Lakshmi’s celebration of South Indian cuisine left a slightly sour taste in your mouth. She was on the Ellen Degeneres show a few years ago and shared a curd rice (thayir sadam) recipe that is part of it on the show. We love curdled rice (yogurt mixed with rice) but is this what we would like to present to the world as our heritage? South Indians literally cringe at it – of all the recipes in the world, why would she choose this, they said, while others simply dismissed it as a gimmick.
Padma Lakshmi is friends with famous actress, screenwriter and producer Mindy Kaling (who also has roots in India) and said she feels proud that Kaling represents the South Indian community. Kaling has won numerous awards for his work, including six Emmy nominations. But again, Kaling doing dosa (from a ready-made material to boot) with Vice President Kamala Harris (whose mother is from Tamil Nadu) left a lot to be desired and many South Indians shouted to the ‘dosa’ scandal she made.
While all of these women are celebrated for their work and should be proud of their accomplishments and success, the portrayal of their roots is somewhat disappointing. Ultimately, as an Indian, one wouldn’t want to be known just for arranged marriages and as a South Indian, for curd rice and dosa. Isn’t it about perpetuating age-old stereotypes but now on international platforms where people already see India as a country where the poor ride on elephants?
Next time, maybe they could watch shows about the growing number of Indian-Western marriages and why they are successful, or the tough lives of American Indians who have adopted white children. They could also maybe whip up a wicked Chettinad Attukari Kuzhambu (lamb meat sauce) or Chemmeen Moilee (shrimp sauce) on Oprah or Ellen. But then maybe they prefer anything bland and tasteless unlike Indians who want everything filled with spices and masala – including life!