Spoiler-Free Review: “Indian Matchmaking” (2020)

[1] This show is basically romanticizing patriarchy.

[2] If there is any critique, it’s not that of arranged marriages, but of the unspoken biases, the pressure of marriage, and cringeworthy laundry list of preferences that constantly perpetuate.

[3] I was fuming at Geeta’s “women need to adjust more.” I have SO many issues with this show… the matchmaker’s job depends on the patriarchal society, but it is truly representative of the culture. Truly representative. Which is the sad part.

[4] The fact that so many people cringed watching it only proves how real those people felt to us. The appeal lies in the fact that whether you laugh or scream, it’s difficult to deny that the whole thing has a wallop of truth to it.

[5] This is the whole purpose of the show: to make people cringe and relate at the same time so that they can understand that what’s wrong and what needs to be changed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews from Indians in the diaspora

This is THE show (on Netflix) being discussed the past week on Twitter! While Helen of Troy may’ve launched a 1,000 ships, this show probably launched a 1,000 think-pieces. Indian Matchmaking sprung from the mind of Smriti Mudhra (a millennial documentary filmmaker raised in the US); she was nominated for an Oscar for her short film- St. Louis Superman (2019). Now, I know what some of you are thinking- isn’t this a reality show!? A pop culture critic was calling it a mash-up of The Real Housewives, Monsoon Wedding, and The Bachelor. Mudhra described it as a “commercial docu-series” on an interview w/ professor Sree Srinivasan on his YouTube channel (see comment below for full video).

For the first few days after its release, I resisted watching it (b/c I usually don’t watch everything that’s “popular”). Then, last SUN, I gave in… and quickly realized WHY so many viewers found it “cringey.” I found it partly cringe-worthy, but also partly tolerable (as in I couldn’t look away). There are two characters (one in US, one in India) who I could relate to. I will keep this spoiler-free, BUT I must warn you that sensitive issues will come up (see comments below for further reading). Is this show regressive, or is it revealing hard truths re: the arranged marriage process (“holding a mirror to nature”)? Are desis hungry for representation? Is this show enjoyable? Let me know your thoughts below!

The show follows 7 single individuals of Indian heritage (ranging in age from mid-20s to mid-30s) living in the US and India. They’re clients of the narrator/main protagonist, Sima Taparia, who refers to herself as “Mumbai’s Top Matchmaker.” Her business is “booming,” as arranged marriage is the norm in India (no stats are given on this, but it’s part of the culture). Sima Auntie (as she is commonly known) explains that she works w/ more “traditional families” who see marriage as a union of two families, not only the couple. The clients in India are among the 1% (elite): a jeweler (Pradhyuman), an engineer who went to college in the US (Akshay), and a fashion designer/entrepreneur (Ankita). The clients in the US are middle to upper-middle class; this group includes an educator in Austin (Vyasar), a lawyer in Houston (Aparna), a Guyanese dance teacher/entrepreneur in New Jersey (Nadia), and a Sikh divorced mom in Colorado (Rupam). Sima chooses matches for these people and sets them up on arranged dates, sometimes w/ family in tow.

There is no mention of how much money clients pay Sima over the 8 eps (around 30 minutes each), I assume it’s a hefty sum. It’s also assumed (by us in the desi diaspora) that most of Sima’s clients are Hindu, wealthy, and come from the upper caste; other viewers may or may not realize this. There is no discussion of the caste system. Some words are defined onscreen; “biodata” (a sort of resume for singles) is explained in detail. There are several instances where the words “tall, slim, and fair” (as in light-skinned) are used to describe prospective matches or clients’ preferences. Colorism is a big problem in India, as well as other nations of the world. The way these words are used may not shock most desis, but this show isn’t only being watched by us. It was a BIT jarring- at first. The words “good character” and “good heart” were used often to describe individuals.

SPOILER-FREE Review: “Marriage Story” starring Adam Driver & Scarlett Johansson

This Netflix movie (released also 30 days in theaters) is based in large part on director Noah Baumbach’s own experiences when he divorced actress Jennifer Jason Leigh in 2013. Jason Leigh (the “Jason” was added as tribute to actor Jason Robards- a close friend of her parents), on whom the character of Nicole Barber (Scarlett Johansson) was based, had early success in the teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Baumbach and Leigh previously collaborated on movies together; during the 2009 filming of Greenberg, he and actress/director of Little Women– Greta Gerwig- fell in love. Theater director Charlie Barber (Adam Driver) lived in Indiana before moving to NYC; Driver grew up in Mishawaka, IN. The toys shown while Nicole plays w/ son Henry (Azhy Robertson) in the opening are from Star Wars, a reference to Driver’s connection to that sci-fi franchise. Celeb divorce lawyer, Nora Fanshaw (Laura Dern- now winner of Best Supporting Actress Oscar), is loosely based on Laura Wasser (who represented Dern, Johansson and Baumbach) during their divorces. The mediation scenes were filmed in Wasser’s office building.

This film has something for everyone– domestic drama, comedy (arising from realistic situations), music, courtroom drama, etc. Charlie sings Being Alive (which Gerwig admitted Baumbach wouldn’t do), and Nicole sings You Could Drive a Person Crazy from Stephen Sondheim’s 1970 musical Company. Many of us know that Johansson can tackle challenging roles (having seen her since she was an ingenue at 16 y.o.); here Driver gets a chance to shine (and whoa, is he bright)! Both actors are very comfortable with each other; they play the quiet and intense scenes well. You really don’t see the acting- as it should be. You will see some similarities to Kramer vs. Kramer starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep; however, in this story- the wife gets an equal voice (which wasn’t given to Streep).

The supporting actors are all well-suited for their parts, no matter how small or meaty. The child actor comes off as very natural. Merritt Wever plays Cassie’s older sis (also an actor); she provides some comic relief, as does the mom (who is a big fan of her son-in-law). Charlie’s theater troupe includes a few familiar faces, such as Wallace Shawn (best know as the villain in The Princess Bride). Alan Alda’s soft-hearted lawyer breaks down what men really go through in a divorce. On the other hand, we see the intimidating/shark-like lawyer (Ray Liotta) who gets results.

New Series Trailers: Turn Up Charlie, Delhi Crime, & Ramy

Turn Up Charlie (Netflix) – This show is now streaming!

This show stars British actor Idris Elba; he worked as a DJ in London & NYC for years in his 20s & 30s.

Delhi Crime (Netflix): March 22nd

NYC-based writer/media critic Aseem Chhabra (who I’ve been following since 2005) posted re: this show on IG. He “loved the first two episodes,” which were directed by his Canadian friend (Richie Mehta). The cast includes Rasika Dugal (Bombay Talkies) and Shefali Shah (who some of you will recognize from her memorable co-starring role in Monsoon Wedding). The show focuses on the Nirbhaya rape case of Jyoti Singh. I’m guessing that most of the actors in this show are theater veterans.

Ramy (Hulu): April 19th

You may have seen Ramy Youssef’s stand-up before. In his 1st series, he plays a young man (NOT unlike himself) who is a first generation Egyptian-American exploring the challenges of being a Muslim in today’s world. His mother is played by internationally-acclaimed Israeli Arab actress, Hiam Abbass (The Visitor; Blade Runner 2049). Mo Amer (another stand-up comic) who is a Palestinian-American/refugee is part of the cast; he has a Netflix special (The Vagabond) that is funny and educational. Dave Merheje, a Canadian-Lebanese stand-up featured in Comedians of the World (Netflix), also has a role; he just won a Juno award this week. Indian-American actress Poorna Jagannathan (The Night Of; Gypsy) is also listed in IMDB for 3 eps; she is a friend of one of my writer friends (from my NYC days).

Netflix Original Holiday Movies

Christmas Inheritance (2017)

This is that (rare) holiday movie that’s NOT totally unbelievable! A self-absorbed New Yorker, Ellen (Eliza Taylor), dubbed “the party heiress” (shades of a young Paris Hilton perhaps?) is sent by her CEO father, Jim (Neil Crone from Little Mosque on the Prairie), to deliver a letter in the small town where he (& his BFF) hatched their (now V successful business). Jake Lacy (who had a memorable role in Carol opposite Rooney Mara) is the innkeeper (also love interest); Andie MacDowell (lovely/sweet-voiced as ever) plays his aunt who owns/runs the local cafe. Ellen learns how to be frugal/practical, helps others less fortunate, and grows to admire the regular folks and their small town values. The actors have good chemistry together; some of the dialogue is cute and quirky. This is a low budget film (obviously), BUT NOT small on charm. 

A Christmas Prince (2017) & A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding (2018)

An editor (who really wants to be a journo), Amber (Rose McIver) is sent to a (fictional) country to cover the coronation of a “bad boy” prince, Richard (Ben Lamb). The widowed queen is played by Alice Kriege (best known as The Borg Queen in the Star Trek: TNG universe). The unique element in these two films (shot in Romania) is the preteen princess, Emily (Honor Kneafsey), who is smart, spirited, yet has an incurable illness (which is handled quite well/doesn’t define her character). To get close to the story, Amber (a likable/optimistic gal) pretends to be the new American tutor for Emily.  The sequel is NOT as interesting as the first film; it deals w/ issues common to planning a wedding, as well as matters of state. I was expecting more from the set design, BUT the outfits and natural scenery were quite nice. There are a FEW twists here and there also. 

The Princess Switch (2018)

This film is one that my lil sis (a BIG fan of the rom com genre, unlike me) recommended when I visited her over Thanksgiving. In the lead is petite/adorable Vanessa Hudgens (a former teen star all grown up) who plays two roles- a baker from Chicago (Stacy) and a countess from a (fictional) European nation (Lady Margaret). Stacy runs into Margaret before an international baking contest; Margaret proposes that they switch places, so she can to live a FEW days as a “normal girl.” After that, Margaret will do her “duty” and marry Prince Edward (Sam Palladio), uniting their nations. Things get complicated when Stacy becomes interested in Edward and Margaret gets close to Stacy’s friend Kevin (Nick Sagar) and his 8 y.o. daughter, Olivia. This is a fun film (also shot in Romania) that will put a smile on your face; the (diverse) actors are pretty good and have a LOT of chemistry w/ each other. I was a LOT more impressed w/ the prince (acting-wise) here than in A Christmas Prince

The Holiday Calendar (2018) 

This movie has a mostly POC cast (a pleasant surprise, esp. in a Christmas movie)! A 20s photographer, Abby (Kat Graham), has a white mom and black dad, as well as a wise (black) grandpa she adores (Ron Cephas Jones from Luke Cage). Abby dreams of having her own studio/getting paid for her type of pics (NOT the boring portraits she takes at her day job). She is overjoyed when her BFF, Josh (Quincy Brown, son of P. Diddy and the recently deceased model- Kim Porter), returns to town after travel blogging all over the world. Gramps (recently widowed) gives Abby an old-fashioned Advent calendar that her grandmother wanted her to have; interesting/unexpected things start happening in Abby’s life. It’s NOT everyday (sadly) that you get to see a happy, successful, and supportive black family in the media. Abby and Josh looked and sounded like real people I’d gone to HS (& college) w/ back in my hometown (Tucson, AZ). Fans of classic films might be interested to see Ethan Peck (also a model); he’s the grandson of Gregory Peck who recently broke into acting. I hope he gets better/more interesting roles than Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, who seems to have fizzled out fast.  

House of Cards (Netflix): Season 6

DO NOT WATCH THIS SEASON… BUT if you already did (like me), you “wasted 6 hours of your life” (as my lil bro complained over Thanksgiving)! The writing is beyond bad, some plotlines go nowhere, and (new) characters are underdeveloped. Annette (Diane Lane) and Bill (Greg Kinnear) Shepherd are billionaire tycoon sibs hell bent on taking down Pres. Claire Underwood (Robin Wright). As girls, Claire and Annette grew up together in rural Texas, so there is a natural rivalry; we also learn that Annette once had a fling w/ Frank. Some of you may wonder who could be the father of Annette’s 20-ish son? 

Spacey is out, so MUCH so that we don’t even hear his voice on recordings (which Doug Stamper discovered). Doug is back and in (potential) danger in the early eps from Claire; Michael Kelly (he liked one of my tweets- YAY!) does a fine job, as expected. I was esp. happy to see Janine (Constance Zimmer) back, BUT she doesn’t get much to do. Tom (Boris McGiver, now diminished in his job (formerly he was “The Hammer”) gets a few scenes; he laments the downfall and conglomeration of the news biz. Campbell Scott is back (he’s now VP) and so is Patricia Clarkson (an indie movie darling, BUT totally misplaced on this show). Claire wants the former spy around as a gal pal /confidante/roomie. A few characters return in brief scenes, incl. former VP Linda (Sakina Jaffrey). 

As for Robin Wright, she does what she can w/ the (bad) material. Of course, she looks incredibly fit and gorgeous (DUH!); this season her wardrobe is more militaristic in style and coloring. Claire projects coldness, resilience, cunning, and strength- even becoming more violent! But as I’ve noted before, strong actors (no matter how much they try), can’t save a series or movie that is poorly written and laughably implausible.