This relationship docu-series follows the lives of young Indian and Indian-Americans just trying to find love through the help of an international matchmaker, Sima Taparia. Taparia has been in the game for 15 years and has a well-regarded reputation for a reason. She’s also an aunty that I would be terrified to tell myself about. Taparia travels from India to America to Canada (and wherever anyone happens to hire her) to meet with her clients.
As we meet every single bachelor/bachelorette, we’re also introduced to their family, their day-to-day life, and what they’re looking for in a partner. Some of the clients will annoy and anger, while others, like Nadia, Ankita, and Vyasar deserve everything their hearts desire.
While the show broadens the perspective of arranged marriages for the Western world, it very much feeds into the prevalent stigmas and taboos South Asian womxn face every day. From the sometimes subtle to other times overt jabs of classism, sexism, colorism, casteism, to discussing stigma surrounding divorce and mental health, the show gives us a horrid inside look on the pressures we face before tying the knot.
On one hand, it is refreshing to see some of Sima Aunty’s candidates in India think independently about what they want from their life partner without parental pressure, but we can’t deny how much the show glamorizes age-old stereotypes of Indian weddings, customs, and traditions. Many will argue “Indian Matchmaking” doesn’t do enough to call out these stigmas and taboos as problematic. But with the show now streaming all around the world, I can only hope it facilitates some much-needed conversations we all need to have about these issues. If so, perhaps we’ll step closer to ending some of the toxicity in our community.
A few weeks before the show’s global release, we spoke with Oscar-nominated creator/executive producer and celebrated documentarian Smriti Mundhra about the creation of the show, as well as how she hoped to tackle the very topics currently up for debate on everyone’s social media platforms.
Why did you wanna tell this story?
“So, it’s a little different from what I’ve done in the past. The reason I was excited about this show, more people are gonna watch this than anything I’ve ever made. To have a mainstream, huge dating show, 150 counties on a huge platform is pretty powerful. And excited to be able to celebrate our tradition and call out what needs to be called out. It allows us to be just us—without being defined by stereotypes. I was excited to have a platform to get away from that.”
I found Ankita’s story, in particular, very interesting and relatable. Her story will spark a lot of conversations. What conversations are you expecting and hoping to come from the show overall?
“I hope people will see themselves in some or several of the participants in the documentary. Marriage is so fundamental to our identity as South Asians whether we like it or not. It’s something we struggle with, and yes, we’ve evolved with how it’s dealt with in just the last two generations, but there’s still so much to wrestle with.
It’s all fair game, once people watch the show there’s going to be a lot to love about it and a lot to critique about it. Critique not only the show but our culture and our mindset around marriage at large. And I think that’s all very valid to talk about. Only once you start talking about taboo ideals relating to classism, colorism, casteism, and divorce out in the open, hopefully then we can change our society’s mindset once and for all. This idea of a ‘good boy’ or a ‘good girl’ or the condescending phrase Nikita is labeled as, ‘challu.’ Once we start talking about this more, I hope that we can evolve out of this.”
How was casting like for this?
“It was frustrating! But it was a challenge, this process as we all know happens behind closed doors. So to ask people if we could come in with our cameras and document the process was different for them. Sima had a list of 500 candidates and we called every single one of them. For the vast majority of people, it was a no. But I think the people we ended up with, they had something to say or show through their journey of arranged marriage.
Each storyline I believe to be a commentary of this tradition. I think we’re really lucky with the range of people we got. We got to expand and show how vast the diaspora is. Indian people are not a monolith. There’s all different types and backgrounds being shown. We have a Guyanese woman, and through her we are able to see the stigma our community has with West Indians. We have a Punjabi-Sikh woman who is dealing with the stigma of divorce and being a single mom, and we have others affected by colorism and body image. I wanted to show diversity of ideology and background. The Indian experience is not limited to one thing.”
Did you have any idea how extensive and thorough Sima’s process was?
“Sima is so very thorough and serious about her work. She’s been in the business for 15 years now. She’s very straightforward. She’s still an old school type of Indian aunty, for her marriage is still a very straightforward proposition. You know, once you vet the families, you match on a basic level of criteria, and then she says the rest is up to destiny. What her struggle is, and you can see in the show, she’s pushing herself to evolve and trying to recognize these individual clients in our generation. Like, it’s important for us to marry someone who has common interests, our wavelength matching, chemistry, and all that stuff. And for her, this is all new.
No one cared about that stuff from her generation. All they really needed was to know if you’re from a good family? Do you have a similar education background? Do you celebrate the same holidays? And that’s all you really needed to know. So, this has been a growing process for her to understand this generation.
Typically she doesn’t meet with the candidate as often as she does in the show. She usually meets the parents and converses with them most of the time, so this is very new for her as well. She’s recognizing that things are changing and not only is she catering to the needs of the parents but she’s now catering to the needs of the candidate. It’s been really interesting to see her change with the times.”
We’ve heard you also have a new series about Bollywood coming out later this year! Can you tell us more about that?
“This is gonna be really fun! Essentially the series is a history of Bollywood told through the lives of two of the most prolific filmmakers in Bollywood. They’re father and son. The idea is to examine the last 50 years of India through the lens of Bollywood. The cultural changes, the political changes. A lot has happened in India post colonialism and Bollywood is a great lens to track those changes and showcase them.”
All episodes in season one of “Indian Matchmaking” are now streaming on Netflix. Check it out for yourself and lend your voice in this important discussion.
For any of us who have siblings, the relationship with them can be one of the most fulfilling ones. And also one of the most bloody frustrating. No one can quite stroke the fire like someone who knows you extremely well, or sometimes not, but have a familial bond with that neither one of you chose. In “Polite Society,“directed by Nida Manzoor, sisters Ria Khan and Lena Khan’s loving, sweet, and sometimes tumultuous relationship takes center stage.
Played delightfully by Priya Kansara and Ritu Arya, respectively, the evolution of their relationship is one of the film’s greatest and simultaneously weakest points. It’s also pretty cool to see two South Asian actresses in an action-comedy movie — how refreshing it is to mention the art of choreography and praise it in regards to fight sequences vs. dance sequences for a film centered on two South Asian women — that itself shows progress.
Set in London, Ria is an aspiring stunt woman who already shows massive talent in martial arts. She looks up to her older sister Lena, who is enrolled in art school and, also holds remarkable potential in a somewhat less traditionally acceptable field. Their relationship starts off as supportive and sweet with no inclinations of jealousy or resentment that sometimes plagues sisterly bonds. But this also means that they are quite protective of one another, almost to the detriment of their well wishes for each other.
This all happens when Lena gets engaged after dropping out of art school. Ria feels betrayed. They were supposed to be on this journey together in fighting for their dreams. Ria decides that she knows what’s best for her sister and enlists the help of her friends to rescue the damsel in distress from her own wedding. Her deep animosity towards the prospect of Lena getting married is also fueled by Lena’s fiancé and his mother acting extremely suspiciously. The twist that ultimately brings the two sisters back together is both shocking and weirdly somewhat progressive in the motive behind the villain’s origin story. But the twist, unfortunately, is too ambitious for the movie as it tacks on another genre and theme earnestly, but still clunkily.
“Polite Society” tackles not only what it means to fight for one’s dreams but also what it means to have just one ardent supporter. As Lady Gaga famously said, “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you but all it takes is one and it just changes your whole life.” Well, Ria’s Bradley Cooper was her very own sister who seemed to abandon her, and her faith in her, when she chose a different path. For Lena, the film opened up the question of marriage and the weight it bears in the life of a South Asian woman. Ria’s lack of understanding of the pressure it places on Lena is the start of the change in their relationship — the start of Ria’s coming of age and the start of Lena settling firmly into her adulthood.
Standouts from the cast include Ria’s best friends, played by Seraphina Beh and Ella Bruccoleri, who commit to the story and characters with such hilarity and conviction. They add the lightheartedness and playfulness the film needs, and it is refreshing that never once do they use Ria’s cultural background as a way to make fun of her or dismiss her.
It is also heartening to see Lena and Ria’s parents being some of the most supportive South Asian parents seen on screen. At the end of the day, it is not the external family pressure that impacts the decisions made by the sisters but rather their own satisfaction, or lack thereof, with their own lives that become the driving force of their actions.
“Polite Society” is written and directed by a South Asian woman for South Asian women, and is definitely worth a watch when it releases in theaters this April.
February 28, 2023March 5, 2023 5min readBy Arun S.
Born in the US and raised in New Zealand, actor Anya Banerjee made her television debut, this past Sunday, in season 10 of NBC’s “The Blacklist.” She is seen playing the character of Siya Malik, daughter of former task force member Meera Malik who met with an untimely death in season one.
An MI6 agent, Malik is hoping to learn more about her mother and the work she did with Raymond Reddington. Her character is a sharp, inventive, fearless spy with a knack for spotting what motivates others. Even though this is her first-ever television role, one can see how deeply involved Banerjee is in the character, pushing you to connect back the dots to the history her character comes with. In an interview with Brown Girl Magazine, Banerjee talks more about her journey into acting, what drew her to the role of Siya and what should the audience expect from the 10th and final season of the show:
People, in general, are very influenced by the content they consume. Was there a specific film, play, or television series that got you interested in acting?
As the first in my family to be raised in “the West,” just being in the world involved performing some kind of identity. Film and TV acted as a third parent in that regard. I’m the first actor in my family, but have wanted to do this since before I can remember. Watching “Bend It Like Beckham” when I was in primary school showed me there was a place for South Asian female leads in Hollywood. I’ve also always been drawn to media with some element of the fantastical. I loved Baz Lurhmann’s “Moulin Rouge” because it brought the theatricality of the stage to the screen in a spectacular way. I remember being tickled by the cultural fusion in the film. It reflected my own sense of being at the intersection of various cultures and the appeal of escaping into a made-up world.
Were you a part of any productions in school or in college that influenced you?
I did a lot of singing and dancing as a kid; Indian dance-dramas at Durga Puja and yearly ballet recitals. We did musicals and Shakespeare productions at secondary school and that’s also when I started working in Auckland’s professional theatre scene.
What were some of your favorite roles while pursuing the acting program at Columbia University and how did they prepare you for your television debut?
Casting director James Calleri headed the acting MFA program at Columbia when I was there and his on-camera classes really set us up for success in TV. We also had the tremendous good fortune of being Ron Van Lieu’s first cohort at Columbia. The master acting teacher directed our thesis production of “Where Do We Live?” by Christopher Shinn. I played Lily, a British party girl who has to be physically and emotionally vulnerable in the play. With the help of movement coach Sita Mani and intimacy co-ordinator Alicia Rodis, I gained the confidence to take more risks in my acting. Now I’m playing a very different Brit with a totally different background and disposition but I’m using many of the same tools I used as Lily to feel grounded as Siya.
How would you describe “The Blacklist” to people wanting to learn more about the show?
Action-packed, full of intrigue, and endlessly entertaining. There’s a reason this show has been killing it for a decade and that’s the high caliber of the cast and crew, as well as the inventive and topical writing that keeps fans coming back for more. Audience members who’ve watched from the beginning will appreciate the full circle moments that my character ushers in — I play the daughter of Meera Malik, late CIA agent from season one so my storyline is a bit of a throwback. But new viewers can use me as an access point into the world of “The Blacklist” as Siya uncovers it, bit by bit, as a newcomer herself.
How did you prepare for the role of Siya Malik and how similar are you in real life to the character you’re playing on screen?
Some of the first things I had to learn on the job were stunts and how to operate a firearm. You’ll be seeing a lot of Siya kicking butt. The gun stuff was entirely new for me but I took to it very quickly and my background as a dancer helped with the fight scenes. Something I identify with in Siya is her resilience. She’s turned the tragedy of her mother’s death into the fuel that led to her own career as an MI6 agent, overcoming obstacles and others’ underestimation of her. That’s the kind of fire inside that I really admire and hope to practice in my own life.
I love characters with complex inner worlds — ones who are deeply flawed and may even be outcast from society, but who rise above the odds to carve out space for themselves and the ones they love.
Do you feel South Asians are still pigeonholed into certain roles or has it gotten better?
I think things are a lot better than what I grew up seeing in the early 2000s. “Sound of Metal,” for example, is one of my favorite movies because Riz Ahmed’s riveting performance has little to do with him being South Asian and everything to do with his commitment to an expertly crafted role.
Is there a dream role you would want to play?
On stage, someone as volatile as Emma from Duncan Macmillian’s “People Places & Things.” On screen, someone as funny as Amina in “We Are Lady Parts” or as brave as the title character in “Kimi.”
You have worked with many talented individuals. Is there anyone still on your list you would want to work with in terms of directors, actors, actresses, and others?
Parminder Nagra, obviously! As a Kiwi, it would be a dream come true to work with Jane Campion or Taika Waititi. I’m most excited to form meaningful relationships with artists daring enough to challenge the status quo.
You describe yourself as a “Kiwi-Bengali in the Big City.” How have you felt as an Indian American, raised in New Zealand, coming into the acting world?
There’s been a lot of juggling aspects of my triangular identity. A lot of the times in this industry people want you to be just one thing, or maybe two, but three’s pushing it! The reality is that we live in a globalized world. We have to make room for cultural nuance in the media. So maybe I’ll lean into my American side today, turn up the Kiwi tomorrow, and speak Bengali with my Indian parents on the phone. All are valid, authentic expressions of myself and reflections of the real world.
It’s okay to be a chameleon — in fact it’s a gift. Adapting aspects of your personality and identity to different circumstances is part of being a multicultural artist.
What is something not many people know about you?
I can be a little introverted and have struggled with social anxiety since I was a teenager. I had a bit of an emo phase then, but have since learned to take life less seriously and it’s made me a lot happier. My loved ones nurture and embrace the goofball in me. If you get to know me, I might let you see my inner clown!
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview?
Take pride in your difference and embrace the outsider in you. It’s your superpower. There’s no one right way to be a Brown Girl so get out there and be whoever you want to be!
“After so Long” is a poetry film created for Simha’s EP, which is streaming on Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. The poem was collaboratively written by Simha, a U.S. native, and Jae, who is based in India, during the 2020 lockdown. “After so Long” was recited by Simha and their parents. In 2022, I directed and produced the film through my studio, Star Hopper. “After so Long” premiered on Nowness Asia in March 2022.
This film is a worldwide collaboration among trans and queer south-Asian artists from the United States, India and Canada. It was recorded, shot and filmed during the lockdown of 2020 and 2021.
Awake at 10 am but out of bed at noon,
I want to be here where I lose myself in these sheets
Glancing through half-shut eyes
At the gold pressing past my window
The glimmer remarks on the ledge of my bed
But the voices are so loud
Like dust collecting in the corner of my room
I am unaware to why I’m still here
With the chilling doubt of the breeze…
I’m swept into lucidity After so long
Mil rahi hoon mein aaj iske saang barso baad,
(Today, I’ll be meeting them after so long)
Koi paata nahi diya tune
(But with no destination sight,)
(What should I do?)
(Where should I go?)
Shayad agar mein chalne lagoon,
(Perhaps, if I keep walking)
Inn yaadon ki safar mein
(Down this road of memories)
Mujhe samajh mein ayega,
(I will find out)
Yeh rasta kahaan jayega,
(Where this road leads)
Inn aari tedhi pakadandiyon pe baarte hi jaana hai,
(Through the twists and turns of this winding roads, I must keep going on)
Mujhe mil na hain aaj uske saath,
(I wish to meet them today)
(After so long)
I feel like I’m retracing my footsteps
From these concrete stretches
To broken cement walls
Chips and cracks forge their way for new designs
I see the old abandoned buildings
That once held the warmth of bodies
Now just hold memories
Supporting the nature’s resilience
In vines and moss
After so long
Dhoondli shishe mein jaaga leli hai
(These isty mirrors have offered refuge)
Bikhri hui laatao ne,
(To these scattered vines)
Zameen pe uchi ghaas pe
(Amidst the tall grass stretching from the ground)
Lehrati kamsan kaliyaa
(The swaying little buds)
Bheeni bheeni khushboo bikhereti
(Spreading honeysuckle scent through the air)
Phir wahi mausam,
(I lose myself in reminiscing, the same season)
(The same heart)
(After so long)
Phir bhi mein chal rahi hoon aaj
(Still, I keep carrying on today)
Khudko khudse milane ke liye
(In the pursuit of my higher self)
Inn galiyo se guzarna hain aaj
(I must pass through these streets today)
Chaalte chaale jaana hai aaj
(I must keep going on today)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor paar
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
(After so long)
Kabhi hum milenge kisi mor pe
(Someday, we’ll meet again, somewhere on this road)
(After so long)
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