Two ‘Indian Matchmaking’ cast members address the show’s controversy

Aparna Shewakramani, a single woman in Houston, goes on a date on the popular Netflix docuseries “Indian Matchmaking.” Photo Courtesy: Netflix via The Washington Post

What happens to your love life after you go on a dating reality show?

“Indian Matchmaking,” an eight-part docuseries on Netflix, follows seven singles in the United States and India as they go on dates arranged by Mumbai matchmaker Sima Taparia. It’s gotten a lot of buzz and has sparked criticism since it came out last month. (More on that later.)

The Washington Post spoke separately with two cast members, Aparna Shewakramani and Vyasar Ganesan, about the aftermath of their experience and what they think the show reveals about Indian culture. The interviews have been edited for clarity and length – and contain spoilers.

Q: Why did you go on “Indian Matchmaking?”

Aparna Shewakramani: Two years ago, I saw a friend’s Facebook post about it. It said: Are you South Asian? Are you single? Are you looking to find your life partner? Are you serious about it? And I said, “Yes, to all of the above!” It had the application linked to it. I submitted the application in under five minutes. A week later, I got a phone call from a casting team member.

Vyasar Ganesan: A friend let me know about the casting call. He said, “I think you’d be perfect for it.” I looked at it and was like: “That’s not really my thing. Thanks for sending it.” And then within an hour, six other people sent me the same thing, saying: “You have to be on this.” And so I decided: “If it’s going to get you off my back, I’ll do it.” But as I started going through more of the interviews, I started getting more and more interested.

Q: Vyasar, on the show, it never really explained what happened with you and Rashi. When the season ends, you two seem to be doing well and you note that it’s time to tell her about the strained relationship you have with your dad. How did that conversation go?

Vyasar: Nothing really happened. It wasn’t a thing that was a point of concern for her; she made it sound like it wasn’t a point of concern for her family. That’s not the reason things didn’t work out with me and Rashi. It was completely amicable. She flew back to San Francisco. I live in Austin. We just sort of drifted apart – and eventually we agreed that it wasn’t working.

Q: I’m Jewish, and the Jewish dating scene in Washington, D.C., where I live, is very small. You meet a lot of people who’ve dated your friends; there’s a lot of overlap. Do you have any tips on how to approach dating when you’re in a small town or a specific cultural community?

Aparna: I stay on very good terms with people. I never ghost. I’m very upfront. After a first date, if they call me or text me for a second date, and I didn’t feel it, I’ll say: “These are the things I enjoyed about meeting you.” And then I tell them, “Unfortunately I just don’t think that we have that kind of connection, and I hope you understand.” Then I try to set them up with a friend.

I talk to Shekar every day, and I still talk to Dilip and Jay. Those were three of my dates on the show. I believe in keeping good relationships with these people; just because they weren’t for me, long-term, doesn’t mean they’re not upstanding people. I’ve set them all up with women who’ve direct-messaged me.

Q: Are people trying to set you up these days?

Aparna: I get a lot of DMs from people wanting to set me up with their brothers and cousins. I’m not really looking right now. I sleep three to four hours a night. I have a full-time job as a lawyer. I have my travel company. I try to engage on social media with the people that want to have one-on-one conversations about the show. So the thing I’m giving up is sleep. But I’d definitely love to try it down the road – in a month or two or three or four.

Q: Have you been dating while self-quarantining?

Aparna: No, I have not. Everyone says: “I do Zoom first dates.” And I’m like: “Oh gosh, no I don’t think so.”

Vyasar: I’m not dating anyone with the pandemic and everything going on. There are people who are doing the Zoom date thing, more power to them. It is hard. I’m getting plenty of offers. But I have not stepped up to the plate.

Q: Has the pandemic changed what you’re looking for in a partner?

Aparna: The viewer doesn’t see it, but I was pretty clear with Sima Taparia, the matchmaker on the show, about what I wanted. I wanted someone super-laid-back, introverted and very intelligent. That’s still what I want today.

Vyasar: Everything’s in flux right now. Every week, there’s some big new thing that we’re going to have to reckon with. Trying to work dating in on top of all of that, your perspective is impossible to nail down.

Vyasar Ganesan, a single man in Austin, speaks with his family members before heading out on a first date arranged by Sima Taparia, the matchmaker featured in “Indian Matchmaking.” MUST CREDIT: Netflix via The Washington Post

On the show, one of the top things I was looking for was a relationship where my partner and I can talk every day about what future we can build together. I recognize that the future is a messy, scary thing right now, so it’s OK to have a day off. It’s OK to just take a day to eat Funyuns and watch reruns of “Parks and Rec.” If I had to change anything, I’d say: Must enjoy my jokes, because my dad humor has gotten worse in quarantine.

Q: Aparna, why the preference for introverts?

Aparna: I just really enjoy them as I get older. I find them very calming. I don’t love to go to dinner parties and have my partner be the one who takes over the dinner table. I prefer a quieter guy who laughs at the jokes.

Q: The show has gotten criticism for how it portrays Indian matchmaking. What do you think of how it depicted your community?

Aparna: It definitely was triggering for a lot of people to see classism, heightism, sexism, all of the things thrown out there. But I think it was important that the show didn’t sanitize the process and our culture – it showed how things are in this moment.

It is a snapshot of seven people and one matchmaker. It is not a snapshot of our entire culture or thousands of years’ tradition in matchmaking.

Anything that annoys and irritates a lot of viewers, it’s rightly so, because we don’t have enough representation of South Asians in media, to have every conversation about it. So this was the first show, and there’s many conversations to be had. People ask: Why was it all quote-unquote “upper-class people.” Well next time, maybe it won’t be. Why didn’t it include LGBTQ people? Well, maybe next time it will.

Vyasar: None of the things that the show is bringing up are new. Indians and Indian Americans have known about these things for a long time – casteism, colorism, gender discrimination, differences in how women are talked about in Indian culture with the matchmaker. We need more shows to fill the void that this shows leaves.

I moonlight as a TV critic. And one thing I consistently see is people don’t take the issues to task enough. The great thing now is that people are stepping up to the plate and calling things out. We need to keep doing that.

One the best things the show does is celebrate people’s right to choose and everyone’s ability to make decisions for themselves. And that is really worth celebrating.

Q: Meaning that both people are making a decision about whether they want to enter into a match?

Vyasar: Yeah, basically. For so many years, the perception of arranged marriage has been that it’s arranged by somebody else and that you don’t really have a say. But “Indian Matchmaking” shows that this younger generation is working hard to make an arranged marriage truly arranged by themselves – to have equal footing and equal say with other parties involved.

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