Cal grad shares experience on Netflix's reality show 'Indian Matchmaking'

Critics of "Indian Matchmaking" say it glosses over some of the darker sides of the tradition of arranged marriage.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If you've been on Netflix lately, you may have seen "Indian Matchmaking." It's the latest reality dating series that documents modern-day arranged marriages.

Since its release in July, the show has sparked controversy and debate over its portrayal of Indian culture.

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The show centers around Sima Taparia, a top matchmaker in Mumbai, as she helps her clients in India and the U.S. find a life partner. One of the women featured is Rashi Gupta -- a 28-year-old UC Berkeley graduate who recently finished up a veterinarian internship in San Francisco. We caught up with Gupta to hear about her experience on the show and to get her thoughts on the controversies surrounding it.

"I think it was good. Obviously, it was controversial," Gupta told ABC7 News of the series. "There's a lot of things there that Indians are upset about, non-Indians are confused about, so it's gathering up a lot of conversation which is anything you want from a show, right?"

Gupta says while most of the primary cast members were Sima's clients prior to filming, she was cast on the show after responding to an email from a Netflix producer.

"About a year and a half ago, my mom forwarded me this somewhat shady-looking email from Netflix," she explained. "Attached was an application. It basically said are you of Indian descent and are you single? I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm both of those, so let me look at this application.'"

She ultimately decided to go for it and found herself cast on the show and -- spoiler alert -- matched up with Vyasar, a high school guidance counselor from Austin, TX. While the match ultimately didn't work out, she enjoyed her experience using a matchmaker and said she remains open to an arranged marriage.

"You learn to love everyone's faults just like you would in what we call a 'love marriage,'" Gupta, whose parents had an arranged marriage, said. "To me, there's no difference. In fact, arranged marriage is really no different than a friend introducing you to someone."

For Gupta, arguably, there isn't much of a difference. But critics of the show say it glosses over some of the darker sides of the tradition: Men and women who are pressured by their families into marriages, the pressure to stay in them and the pressure not to marry outside your class.

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Barnali Ghosh, the curator of the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour, has mixed feelings about the series.

"I watched the show. I cringed through the show," Ghosh told ABC7 News.

"I think one of the reasons the show might be controversial is that we don't have as many representations for South Asian culture, of Indian culture, in our media still," she explained, "And even when we have those representations, they often tend to still focus on things like poverty, or in this case arranged marriage, so things that are still a fascination for the west."

Ghosh admits that some of what the show reveals is spot on. The women, more than the men, are told to compromise. Colorism is also an issue with the matchmaker, often mentioning the fairness of someone's skin.

"It is real and it's also very traumatic to hear that being said about some of the participants of the show, some of the participants are really independent, cool women," she said.

Ghosh said she thinks it would have been helpful if Netflix had given some context, possibly by putting a caption at the end of the series that talked about colorism.

Gupta is well-aware of these troubling aspects that still exist within Indian society, and she said she's not immune to them. Even while watching the show, she was surprised to see a face reader make an upsetting comment about her.

"One line about me that the face reader made, was that if this match doesn't work then her future is bleak. That's what he said about me," she recalled. "And I'm like, I really hope that's not true, because, you know, I just hope that's not true."

Still, Gupta is glad the show included these moments. She's hoping it will spark change.

"People think it's an archaic tradition, but it's happening. It's happening in real life today," she said. " We are trying to say that, hey, we may not be slim and trim but we're educated, we're confident people, and isn't that what really matters in this day and age?"

Gupta said all of the cast members have bonded through this experience and started a Facebook group to communicate with each other. She said her relationship with Vyasar didn't work out for the same reasons any relationship might fizzle ("We have different outlooks on life, what we want for our futures," she explained), but that they remain friends.

For the moment, Gupta is now living back in her hometown of Los Angeles -- and still looking for love.

"Long term goal is to be back in the Bay Area," she said. "I'm not locked down. Single and ready to mingle. Hook a girl up."
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