From its wildly successful debut in July to the flood of “Sima Aunty” memes on social media by August, the new Netflix original series Indian Matchmaking made waves in the United States, India, and beyond. However, these waves were followed by some harsh criticism of the show. And while it’s not unusual for a popular TV series to have its critics, Indian Matchmaking had Indians, both in the diaspora and in India, divided over almost everything. This division raises an important question: We want representation, but is this the representation we want? In an exclusive interview with me, Vyasar Ganesan, one of the show’s cast members, offers his take.
Indian Matchmaking is one of the first of its kind. With its all-Indian cast, reality TV depiction of arranged marriage, and characters from different countries and age groups, it provides a unique and semi-modern take on what is normally described as an old Indian tradition. Whether it’s Aparna’s “judgmental” attitude, Pradhyuman’s “pickiness,” or Akshay’s “indecisiveness,” each cast member comes with a fresh take on arranged marriage. The only thing that these individuals have in common is the fact that they all want to get married.
One person that stood out to me during my binge-watch of the show was Vyasar Ganesan, a fan favorite and high school counselor in Texas. There is a duality to Vyasar’s persona. On the one hand, he is an educator and role model for people in their teens and early 20s. But on the other hand, his love for comic books and board games makes him relatable to this same age group. Vyasar’s consistently positive demeanor led to his immediate rise on social media, particularly on a Facebook page called “Subtle Curry Traits.” So when I finished the show and gathered my thoughts, I wanted to hear the perspective of someone who’d lived the experience himself and had a seemingly positive outlook on the entire thing. After reaching out to Vyasar on Twitter, I was able to sit down with him virtually and talk about his experiences on the show, the divisive audience reaction, and some South Asian stereotypes.
A lot of my initial thoughts revolved around the accuracy of the show for the individuals and Indian culture as a whole. With all reality TV, viewers can’t help but ask: How much of what I’m watching is genuine? This skepticism especially applies with a series like Indian Matchmaking, where the showmakers can single-handedly decide which harsh truths to portray and which to avoid. Vyasar acknowledges that “choices were made in the editing process that made [certain cast members] appear a certain way[,]” but he feels that his individual experience was “accurately portrayed.” As far as the depiction of Indian culture overall, something that had greatly divided the show’s audience on social media was the mention of casteism and colorism. Viewers across the world argued over whether Indian Matchmaking was promoting caste and skin color as something to consider when approaching a new potential match. Vyasar states that the show doesn’t promote giving weight to these issues but rather “just portrays them” like “the difference between a poster and a picture.” In his perspective, the series shined a harsh light on some of the more bitter pills to swallow in Indian culture. [bf_image id="7hrkwwf9qg4brstbr5cxj3vf"] I also wanted to hear his thoughts on the divided audience perception and whether the reaction that viewers had was what the showmakers anticipated. “The primary audience that is being shocked by [the show] and horrified by it aren’t Indian people. I think the things that are bad in the show and difficult to deal with — I think Indians have been dealing with those things for a long time,” he says. He also addresses the difference in audience perception between the Indian diaspora and the Indians based in India. “I think the Indian diaspora in the US is in such good conversation with the Indian community back in India,” Vyasar remarks. “It's definitely sparked a lot of debate and discourse,” but that’s how “you make things immortal,” he adds. To him, the debate that surrounded the show was indicative of our society having the right and necessary conversations. With India embracing Western culture more than ever, Vyasar can see a future in which caste is not talked about and being colorist is taboo.
Overall, Vyasar believes that the show has pushed Indian society in the right direction. He states that any criticism of the series or the narrow-minded thinking that may have appeared in the show is really people asking “for more shows like this. We need Muslim Matchmaking, [...] we need gay Indian Matchmaking, we need trans Indian Matchmaking. [...] We need more shows like this because you can’t expect one show to solve all the problems with arranged marriage.” For him, the docuseries is a push toward important conversations, toward the modernization of a historic tradition, toward an emphasis on partnership rather than marriage.
Personally, I can’t speak to whether Indian Matchmaking is a positive or negative representation of Indian culture or arranged marriage culture, but I can say for a fact that the show has opened doors for us to address the issues we see within ourselves. If it’s making us uncomfortable, it probably means there is room left for us to change and grow.
Link to the full interview here.