Welcome, everybody, to my commentary on Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking.” If you watched the global sensation, you may have heard my voice. Now here are my thoughts.
A few weeks ago, I got a message from my friend, Madeline; we were classmates in acting class out here in Los Angeles. She asked if I wanted to do an audio description for an upcoming Netflix show.
“You mean voiceover?”
“No. It’s similar but it’s for the sight-impaired. To hear you, the audience will have to click on settings and check Audio Description.”
“Oh, I’m familiar with that. It’s kind of like how to watch my comedy on Netflix, you… exit out of Netflix and go to YouTube.”
I got the job.
Madeline asked if I had any female equivalents: annoyingly impeccable English, an American accent, and the ability to nail Indian pronunciations. So I recommended Sundeep Morrison, a new friend out with whom I had just hung (#AnnoyinglyImpeccableEnglish) at a performing arts conference. She got the job.
And so it came to pass. For four straight days during this Covid quarantine, I made the short trek from Burbank to Hollywood to lay down these tracks.
I knew I would binge-watch it upon its release as I immediately found myself getting caught up in the stories. In fact, Glenn the Sound Engineer had to remind me that I wasn’t acting; I was describing. I’m imagining I’m Renée Zellweger in ‘Shark Tale.’ Not sure why I picked an animated comedy from 2004 to illustrate my point, but I somehow have a clip stuck in my head about how much she threw herself into the role even though she’d never appear on-screen. That, or perhaps a white Texan in her 50s with a thick Southern accent is my female equivalent.
So, experimenting with the four things you can do with your voice (speed, volume, tone, and pitch), I threw fastballs up the middle (maybe a cricket analogy is more apt), never betraying my affinity for Vyasar, the bachelor from Austin, or my aversion to Aparna, the comedy-hating lawyer from Houston, a.k.a., Not-Austin.
By the way, thanks a lot, casting directors, for plucking the hardest Indian names you could find: Vyasar? Pradhyuman? (I practiced saying that so many times until I was afraid I was conjuring up the brown equivalent of Candyman.) You try it. But seriously… Pradhyuman, Krishna’s oldest son? Why don’t we throw in some Sankalps and Vaibhavs while we’re at it? No Neils made the cut, huh?
Alright, so here are the funniest things I found about the show:
- As inventive as the names were, maybe… consider investing more than 30 seconds choosing the name of the series? “Indian Matchmaking”? That’s it? A working title if I ever heard one. This same production company would’ve called Breaking Bad “Making Drugs.”
- Sima from Mumbai: I love how she states her name and her location, like she’s at a customs interview. Who’s she trying to be — Jenny from the Block? “Don’t be fooled by the fox that I got.” Is that a fox or a dog or a cat? She can’t tell the difference!
- No shade: I applaud these 12 participants. It is seriously brave to put yourself, your struggles, and your backstory out there for the world to see. I mean, they asked 500 people and only twelve agreed to appear? It’s not like they found the 12 Eskimos. 12 Indians. Out of 1.3 billion. And I’m intentionally not doing the percentage math to break the stereotype.
- Despite the way Sima first comes off (talking about how she has “very good Punjabis also” like we’re baseball cards), I think she’s actually a good person at heart. When Vyasar tells her about his father’s dark past, her first reaction isn’t how it’ll affect his prospects or her own chances of closing the deal, but rather what reads as sincere compassion for him as a person. The other side of that coin, though, is, while she was great about taking divorcée Rupam’s father to task for rejecting an Indian man merely because his ex-wife is white, I wish there would’ve been an on-camera interview from her about how unfair society is to single mothers. Rupam was right: her Dad did make us Punjabis look pretty darned bad. There should’ve been more criticism of the cheating husband, when he’s the cause of her entire mess. Nothing could illustrate the chauvinism of society more than how females are shunned due to male mistakes. The best part was how, minutes later, whom is Rupam consulting for her dilemma? Her white friend. Love it.
- In Episode 7, modern businesswoman Ankita gets mad at the matchmaker because she didn’t let her know in advance that the man with whom she was being set up, Kshitij, was divorced. She even said she liked him but was upset with the matchmaker. While I can understand her frustration, it made no sense not to see the man again. It’s not like she has to deal with the matchmaker the rest of her life. In the great words of a great philosopher, “A finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. The finger is needed to know where to look for the moon, but if you mistake the finger for the moon itself, you will never know the real moon.” Thich Nhat Hanh. Or, in more modern parlance… Kshitij Happens.
- I love Vyasar. Even his screw-ups are endearing. My three favorite Vyasar moments:
a) “I don’t know how to create romance.” Which he then proceeds to depict two minutes later when he’s video-chatting with Manisha: “I realize I hadn’t cleaned my bathroom in a while, and there was a lot of hair. I always forget… it’s not that I forget how hairy I am, but I forget what it looks like when it accumulates.” Who says that?#WhenHairyMetSaala
b) “I felt like I was looking at the sun sometimes… not in the sense that the sun is hard to look at, but she’s radiant.” Oh, I am totally using that to make it seem like I’m paying someone a compliment but I’m low-key throwing shade. Although, maybe he should’ve finished the thought that would best reflect our true attitude: “… in the sense that the sun would make you too dark to get married.”
c) “By the fourth or the fifth phone call, the doubts were rock-solid.” Who describes doubts as rock-solid? It reminds me of a time my brother was helping our Mom push something very heavy. He finally exclaimed, “It’s budging!” My Mom almost fell over laughing. Who uses “budging” that way? You usually only use it as a negative, as in, “This won’t budge.”
7. “Indian Matchmaking” has come under fire for portraying stereotypes. As a comedian, I can relate. Idiots tend to blame the joke, when the joke is actually a signpost that tells you where to dig to root out the underlying problem. So, don’t attack the work. Attack the problem in the culture. And the reality is that “slim, trim, and educated” has long carried more value than fat… (sorry: “healthy”) and dim. Had they eschewed a bunch of progressive families, it would’ve been unrecognizable and unrepresentative. A straight-up Westernized dating show would’ve been exactly that: Westernized. Arranged marriage is the hook here. A show about Indian romantic relationships without arranged marriage would be like doing a report on black culture with no soundtrack. “OK, so black folks have made the best music of all time, from jazz to blues to disco to hip-hop… first idea: I’m doing this as a SILENT FILM.” Yeah, great move, foolio.
8. Hell, the world’s largest Indian matrimonial site, Shaadi.com, is exactly that: a matrimonial site. It’s literally not even called a dating site. My parents are pretty darned progressive… They have a comedian for a son. When people ask me how my parents took that, I reply, “Well, my brother is gay… so that really worked out.” (And they were immediately accepting of him, too.) Still, there’s no getting around it: They don’t “understand” dating like my generation does.
Maybe life would be easier with no dating. Too many choices. It’s like years ago when Google decided, “Your email inbox is now divided into three tabs – Primary, Social, and Promotions. Deal with it.” They didn’t ask me. I woke up one day and I was in this new relationship. Apparently I can rearrange them if I want, but I don’t. (Don’t tell my parents, but I kinda like an arranged inbox.)
9. And let’s be honest: some traits are indeed objectively superior. I understand why most women want somebody taller. Take it from a 5’6” man. It sucks. Instead of talking to my fellow men at parties, I end up talking to the circle of women, since we’re at eye-level. (It’s tiring staring uphill for hours on end.) When I take a ticket in the parking garage, I often have to open the car door to reach it. (Not a great way to start a date.) And I can’t reach the top shelf (ok, the middle shelf) in the kitchen without a step stool. This is why I got so pissed off when some six-foot dude took a 5’2” chick off the market. We got slim pickens, yo!
10. That said, the criticism is a bit laughable because they do show some progressive parents. Ankita’s father declares, “I think she is ahead of her times [sic]. She’s not wrong, but are we ready to accept that sort of a thought process?” And when his wife groans that the new generation is too rebellious, he amends it, “Or what we consider rebellious.” That’s a very forward-thinking statement, especially by a member of the ok boomer generation.
11. I applaud how the show did its best to avoid the standard dinner date or hangout. They’re throwing axes, making clay pots, riding horses, doing goat yoga… though the crazy concept of goats and yoga somehow went better together than the couple who did it. If you’re not feeling that adventurous, let me tell you the best first date possible, based on my decades of serial dating: The Thursday 9 p.m. drink. It’s late enough on a school night that nobody is mistaking it for dinner. And it’s the most flexible time of the week. If y’all hate each other’s guts, you can call it after an hour (or Aparna’s billable 55 minutes). “Hey, early meeting tomorrow…” If you’re having the time of your lives, you can pretend you really are back in school and rage till 2 a.m.
12. Ankita is right that nobody should be telling people to lose weight to get married. Forty-two percent of Americans are obese. And 48 percent are married. I don’t think being slim & trim is any kind of pre-req. If everybody had to get in shape and develop symmetrically beautiful faces, the marriage rate would be like 5 percent.
13. Some advice for Pradhyuman: Hey, buddy. Many over the years have asked me if I’m gay. I don’t think serving complicated cocktails to aunties and telling them to blow it is doing anything to dispel the rumors. You look too much like Andy Dick teaching a BJ course in Old School.
14. My favorite misspoken phrase of the series has to be, “Let me take your picture photo.” To English speakers, it sounds like the same thing twice. Then again, to Hindi speakers, the equivalent is probably “Bus Stop.”
15. Every reality show needs a villain. To this day, nobody was better than Omarosa from the premiere season of the Donald Trump hit show and downfall of American society, “The Apprentice.” And that role belongs to Aparna. #Aparnarosa Are there people like Aparna out there? YES. HER MOM. When they were walking their dogs, I thought they were sisters.
16. By far my favorite part was, during the “When Harry Met Sally” E5 intro, a husband tries to introduce his wife, Sunita Kabra, who busts out the gate with, “I will tell my name. You say yours.” You go, Sunita.
17. In eight episodes, there’s only one use of the word “Auspicious”? I swear, uncles and aunties and pundits and Acharyas throughout the diaspora use that adjective to describe occasions more than any other. I may name my next standup special, “An Auspicious Occasion.”
18. BOY, did Preeti Auntie do a number on Akshay. Does he have any personality whatsoever? He looks like a human being but is ostensibly a robot. So, lest anyone say that it’s only the patriarchy that can crush women, here’s a case in point of a grown man being dismembered by a strong woman who clearly runs the household next to her ball-less husband. He complains of a woman who had a tattoo, but if he ever got one, my guess is that it would be an Anthony Perkins line from Psycho: “A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Mother.” It’s too bad he can’t marry his cute cousin, Mansha. They could move to Texas. Pretty sure it’s still legal there. Boy, my wife’s gonna be mad about that one.
19. In one episode, we learn a superstition that you’re not supposed to vacuum after dark. Never have I ever heard that one. I know you’re not supposed to mow the lawn after dark since you can’t bloody see the grass. But vacuuming after dark? Is this like an ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust thing? Someone explain this to me.
20. Aparna apparently hates LA. Yeah, Aparna, don’t come to LA. We’re full.
21. The ‘When Harry Met Sally’ E6 intro: “We met through India Abroad.” They put the broad in India Abroad. Anyone? Get it? This thing on? The best part is that he scams her parents into thinking they’re going to see the 3.5-hour ‘Gandhi’ epic but instead takes her to see the Dustin Hoffman romp, ‘Tootsie.’ When the interviewers astutely ask how they used their time, they slyly joke that they got down to business. I’m not sure what they’re into but it sounds like he turned that other cheek. Gandhi? Anyone? C’mon, that was gold.
22. Ankita’s use of “douchebags.” That word never gets old. So glad it’s gone global.
23. There’s a face reader. If anyone thinks we all spend too much time on appearances, here’s a guy whose entire career revolves around looks. How is this even an art, let alone a science? Are they any better than palm readers? Perhaps they should join forces and open a Facepalm business.
24. Good on the show for showing how Rupam’s sister is married to an American and they do NOT hyphenate it into “African-American.” That’s progress.
25. The series just ends. There is no resolution. We all have to Google to find out what becomes of each participant. Not to spoil anything but Radhika ain’t makin’ no tiffins for Akshay and Preeti’s blood pressure is probably 240/160. If I’m a man who wants to keep on playing the field, I know I’ll be calling up ol’ Sima since literally none of the couples make it. “See-Ma, I tried,” I’ll say, as I set up that next Thursday 9 PM date. I’m a bit surprised the brand-conscious Sima allows a show that displays none of her successes, especially when she does seem good at her job otherwise. You don’t see a reel of mine introduced with, “OK, so I normally kill, but at all of these gigs, I bombed. And on this auspicious occasion, I actually slept with the bride.”
In all seriousness, I am glad that not everybody decides marriage is for them. Perhaps, the normally immovable Indian society is finally… budging.
Rajiv Satyal is a Cincinnati-born, Los Angeles-based comedian and the creator of solo dating show, “No Man’s Land,” available, of course, on YouTube.