Netflix's witty new docuseries about a Mumbai-based matchmaker is a slick and soapy treat.

By Kristen Baldwin
July 15, 2020 at 08:22 PM EDT
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When Americans think of arranged marriages, they probably picture two sets of parents brokering a deal over the dinner table, while the bride- and groom-to-be sit in shy and miserable silence. That scenario is largely absent from Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking, a witty and engaging (sorry) docuseries following modern young singles who turn to this centuries-old custom to find a mate.

Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia travels all over the world connecting her clients, unmarried men and women of Indian descent, with potential spouses. Though one client’s friend dubs Sima “human Tinder,” her work is much more complicated than swiping left or right. "The marriages are between two families," Sima explains. "The two families have their reputation and many millions of dollars at stake." (As you may have guessed, most of her clients come from money.) The job of matchmaker is multifaceted: Sima is part therapist, part research assistant, part mediator, and all firm-but-loving noodge.

The first episode of Matchmaking (premiering July 16) introduces us to a trio of Sima’s clients: Nadia, 32, a willowy event planner from Morris Plains, N.J.; Pradhyuman, a 30-year-old Mumbai-based bachelor who enjoys "the finer things in life"; and Aparna, 34, a demanding, well-traveled lawyer based in Houston who recently rejected a suitor because "he didn’t know Bolivia has salt flats." Each one offers Sima a unique challenge: Pradhyuman isn’t sure he really wants to get married, even though his family thinks he’s long overdue. ("Half your life is gone," scolds his married sister. "Only half is left now to spend.") Nadia is descended from Indian settlers in Guyana, which means some traditional families will reject her for not being a "proper" Indian.

And Aparna? Pretty much everything about Aparna is a challenge. With her Resting Rejection Face, dry soundbites, and ever-expanding list of deal-breakers, Aparna is destined to be Matchmaking’s breakout meme/social media celebrity. ("You know how I hate comedy," she sighs when Sima presents her with a suitor who has a good sense of humor.) Even her compliments sound harsh — "Are some people really that uncomplicated?" she says of one "easy-to-talk-to" date — and the highest praise she can offer a proposed match is, "I don’t hate him."

“Sima Auntie,” as her clients call her, navigates all the difficulties — dueling family agendas, failed introductions, Aparna — with soothing equanimity. Whenever she’s stuck, Sima confers with a wide array of marriage consultants, including an astrologer (“ultimately, my efforts are meaningless if the stars are not aligned,” she explains), a life coach, and even a “face reader” named Janardhan Dhurbe. (He takes one look at Aparna’s photo and declares her "obstinate and stubborn.") Over the course of Matchmaking’s eight episodes, new clients are introduced, including Akshay, a 25-year-old from Mumbai whose mother, Preeti, has decided he will be married within the year, come hell or high blood pressure. (In one better-than-fiction moment, Preeti actually measures her blood pressure in front of her son and then scolds him about the elevated numbers.)

All of this is presented as glossy, cosmopolitan drama, without a hint of "look at these crazy foreigners and their kooky customs!" condescension. Segments are interspersed with pithy, sweet Harry Met Sally-style interviews with long-married couples who met through a matchmaker, allowing viewers to get a glimpse of the happiness that could be waiting for Sima's clients should the stars align. Which brings me to the only truly disheartening thing about Matchmaking: Its lack of narrative closure. Three new clients are introduced in the second half of the season, which pushes Pradhyuman, Nadia, and Aparna off the canvas with only the vaguest of resolutions. (What happened with Aparna and the nice young man she did goat yoga with? Will we ever know???) The final episode ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, with Sima meeting yet another potential bride in the last five minutes. Perhaps if the show takes off, Netflix will assemble a Love Is Blind-style reunion, featuring Sima and all of her customers — satisfied or otherwise — chatting over Zoom. It's not a perfect solution... but I don't hate it. Grade: B+

Indian Matchmaking premieres Thursday, July 16 on Netflix.

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