When “Sima Taparia from Mumbai” met Vyasar Ganesan, one of the singles featured on Netflix’s much discussed “Indian Matchmaking” docu-series, she was as smitten by his effortless charm as the rest of us. The 30-year-old college counselor from Austin, Texas, quickly became a fan and Twitter favourite, wooing singles across the globe with his welcoming personality and infectious smile.
And when Vyasar and a potential match broke up on the grounds of his earning potential, Sima wasn’t the only one visibly upset. The Twitterverse was just as disappointed, clearly at a loss for what went wrong.
Even though Indian Matchmaking has received its fair share of criticism for glorifying South Asia’s problematic rishta culture, it has opened the door for discussion regarding desi obsession with choosing partners based on superficial attributes.
It was another baking summer day when I metaphorically ‘picked up the phone’ to Vyasar Ganesan – the events of 2020 have all prompted us to learn the rules of email, Skype and Zoom conversations, along with other pieces of computer software.
There’s the initial mutual nervousness of an interview conducted by distance, but it soon fades as I excitedly jotted down answers my questions. I had to know: why subject oneself to the downsides of Netflix fame when a quiet life calls?
“I was working, and a friend in LA sent me the casting call for the show. I looked at it, and thought “Nah.” An hour later, in the middle of a work meeting, I got six other messages from six other people, saying I had to apply, I have to be on the show. So, I said, sure, ok, if it’ll get you off my back! A few months and several interviews later, I get a phone call from a producer, saying, alright, we’ll see you in March. It was a wild ride.”
Today, Vyasar Ganesan finds himself overwhelmed with fan mail, as well as thirsty singles sliding into his DMs. With “Indian Matchmaking” taking off like a storm, what effect has newfound fame had on his life?
“Now that the show’s been out for a few weeks, life has changed in many, many ways. I’ve been recognized a few times in public (the mask and the pandemic, obviously, put a damper on the public appearances) and my Twitter has blown all the way up. I’m trying to keep my ego in check, reminding myself that whatever celebrity I’ve gained, it’s not a feature film or even a YouTube series. It’s a docu-series that I was a participant in. Essentially, cool, but, you know, keep it chill.”
Taparia was confident Vyasar would find somebody through the show given his friendly nature. When describing an ideal partner, he primarily lists values and not physical characteristics. Was reality TV, then, really the surefire way to seek a partner?
“I had no idea. I was open to the notion, and I went into the process feeling hopeful and honestly searching. But there’s no guarantees with anything, even with a matchmaker as talented as Sima. But as I’ve said, if I met the love of my life because of a reality TV show, it would not be the weirdest thing that has ever happened to me.”
Sima Mami’s rishta seeking skills have turned her into a global phenomenon, making her the one person at the center of “Indian Matchmaking.” But how much of her clients’ specified criteria does she actually take into consideration while playing cupid?
“Sima really does try to treat you like her own child. She brings a lot of energy and positivity to the process, or at least she did with me. I had a hard time coming up with criteria on the spot — when she asked me what I was looking for, I’m fairly sure my mind went blank and I just said, “What is anyone really looking for?” But when I finally was able to articulate what I was looking for, I think she saw what I was saying and what I had left unsaid, and did her best to match me based on that. I didn’t feel that anything was ignored in either of the women she set me up with.”
Throughout the arranged dating process, Vyasar appeared to be forthcoming, expressive and genuinely candid. He doesn’t have a five-year plan, but definitely sees himself as a stay-at-home dad. Keeping the positive qualities in mind, one does wonder how much an eligible bachelor differs from his on-camera persona.
“I was definitely anxious to get time off camera with both Manisha and Rashi. I tried my hardest to be real on camera, but obviously there’s a difference between trying to be real and being real. In our brief exchanges off camera, we were really able to open up and talk about our wishes for the future, our long-term goals, dreams, hopes, fears, etc. Still, it was encouraging to see that both women really presented themselves honestly on camera.”
The show essentially divided viewers into two groups. One group cringed at the blatant display of colourism/racism, casteism or deeming female candidates as “too picky”. The other stuck with the show until the finish line because it hit a little too close to home. But regardless of your group preference, it’s clear there was an obvious disparity in the way men and women were treated on the show.
“I think it’s foolish to claim that gender makes no difference in the process. It’s obvious that Indian society places a higher value on the opinion of men that it does of women. Things are changing, slowly and painstakingly, and I think the show does serve, in various capacities, as a testament to that. We’re talking about these issues, and we’re conscious that we need to keep talking, not just among ourselves but amongst all people, across all generations. Still, I think the show works hard to celebrate the choices that all the participants made. It’s commonly seen that arranged marriages are made by hook or by crook, with an unfair degree of force and arm-twisting. I think “Indian Matchmaking” works hard to show that there’s room for celebrating the individual’s right to choose.”
In a fresh display of vulnerability, we also saw Vyasar being frank about his family’s history. His parents are divorced, and his father is serving a prison sentence on a murder conspiracy charge.
“To be honest, it wasn’t something I planned on doing. But the more I thought about it and talked about it during those interviews, wedged into that tiny little desk, I came to understand that it’s a part of my story. My father’s court case is a matter of public record – anyone can find it, and there have already been articles written about since the show came out. But I made the choice to stake my claim on that part of my story, rather than let someone else. It wasn’t easy, and the audience can tell how uncomfortable it was for me, with Sima and with my friends, certainly. But it was the right thing to do. People have been reaching out from across the world, expressing appreciation and gratitude that I was able to open up about my father and my history. Many have said it inspired them to just open up to one or two people about their own issues. And that’s powerful, to feel my story’s impact.”
“Indian Matchmaking” also introduces us to downright amazing and badass females. Vyasar was matched with two of them! If given the choice, who else would he like to date from the show?
“I’d love to go on a date with Nadia. I’m a big fan of Guyana, especially the food and the history. More than that, I think we have a lot in common and have a similar sense of humor. It would be a lot of fun, certainly. We both like a non-traditional date and plenty to eat.”
Things really did seem to work with Rashi until Vyasar picked up the phone to tell her about his father’s history. It really left us viewers on a cliffhanger!
“Rashi and I aren’t seeing each other anymore. Things didn’t work out, but not because of what I told her about my family history and my father. Rashi made it clear it didn’t bother her. It’s a funny thing, how hard dating is. Even when the big things are aligned, the little things can trip up a relationship, and just as often the opposite is true. There’s no predicting it. I still count her as a good friend, and I feel lucky that I got to spend the time I did with her.”
Surely with all the criticism that Indian Matchmaking has received – good and bad – it must be renewed for a second season to redeem itself? I asked Vyasar: was there any chance of Netflix bringing back its OGs?
“I hope so! I hope people keep watching it and keep talking about it. Netflix, take notes.”
With all the conversations, critiques, commentary and chatter taking place across the globe, there was bound to be a specific thing or two that’s got to really stuck.
“I’ve been amazed how quickly people seem to recognize this show is different. “Indian Matchmaking” has very, very little in common with other romance shows on Netflix, Hulu or really anywhere. It’s shot differently, edited differently, and has characters so wildly different than what anyone would expect to see. Part of the reason it’s done so well is because of that – no one expected to see or talk about the things that the show makes us talk about.”
“Indian Matchmaking” has slowly become a viral sensation thanks to fans who have made memes based on the docu-series. People took no time in flooding our feeds with relatable and hilarious moments extracted from the show!
“There are some really quality meme-makers out there. People playing around with concepts of height, face-reading, even my Goldilocks analogy has been fair game. I love a good meme, and being on this show has been a goldmine of memes, usable for a wide variety of circumstances. I love that my friends keep finding new ones and sending them to me, it’s great. Plus, it speaks to the enduring nature of the show – it can be a serious thing, matchmaking, but the comedy cannot, will not be denied.”
“Indian Matchmaking” (and the story of Vyasar Ganesan) is streaming on Netflix globally now. We cross our fingers the show is renewed for a second season and our favourite bachelor gets more screen time and more chances at love!
From singing and acting to drawing immaculate figurines, Saheli Khan, 11, has made her debut in the North American Broadway tour as young Anna in Disney’s musical “Frozen.” As a first-generation Indo Caribbean, with roots in India and Pakistan, she continues to pave the way for young people with similar backgrounds.
Khan has always enjoyed entertaining those around her and she continues to have the motivation to pursue her passions. In school, she always sought to lead her class in songs and she was encouraged by her parents and teachers to enroll in music and acting classes, even at a young age. These ventures fueled her passions even more.
Continue reading to learn more about her journey!
What do you like about acting the most?
I like to portray different characters. Specifically, I like playing characters who have strong personalities and those who portray a sense of bravery, especially during problematic occurrences.
As a first generation Indo Caribbean actress, how do you feel about your journey as a young Disney princess? Do you feel that you are paving the way for other Caribbean and South Asians who want to pursue similar paths?
Diversity has always been important to me, but in today’s society, I feel that most people would like to be accepted and encouraged. As a Disney Princess, I am simply helping to broaden the field for all young people to see that skin color should not matter.
What do you like about your character, Anna? Is there anything that you may dislike?
Young Anna is a ball of sunshine! She is happy, funny, and a delight to be around. Despite having a troubled childhood, she grows up to be just as joyous, but she is also courageous as she goes on a journey to find her sister. I love everything about young Anna and she truly embodies who I am as a person.
Who is your inspiration and why?
My parents are my inspiration. My mom is beautiful, loving, and she works hard without ever giving up. No matter the task, she finds a solution and keeps on going with a smile on her face. She always tells me, “Whenever you feel overwhelmed, remember whose daughter you are and straighten your crown.” And my dad is my best friend. He’s insanely funny, caring and knows all the best places to eat! My parents are exactly how I want to be when I grow up.
If you had a magic wand, what show would you do next?
I would love to be Annie on Broadway or play the lead in a series or movie.
What is the one last thing that you do before you step out on stage and the curtain goes up?
There are many things I do before I step on stage. I do fun and silly things quietly with my “Frozen” sister, Mackenzie Mercer, and play with my Anna pigtails for good luck.
What are your other passions?
I love to sing, act, and spend time with my younger cousin, Ayla. I also love to draw and color since it makes me feel relaxed. I was told I have a great ability to draw and make figurines ever since I was a child. And I love exploring new cities and eating at great restaurants with my family.
What advice do you have for young people who are just starting their careers, specifically within the field of musical theater?
To have a positive mindset, practice diligently, and enjoy every moment within the journey. I have learned that there may be some occurrences that may not take place the way that you want them to, but there’s always an opportunity to learn from them.
Aside from your career, how do you balance your schoolwork and acting?
I attend school virtually, which is essential when I am on tour. Each day I have scheduled school hours that allow me to focus and complete all school assignments. Once that is done, I have most of the day to work on extracurricular activities, go on outings, and hang out with my friends. Though performing takes a large chunk out of my day, it helps that I enjoy it, so it doesn’t feel like work.
What types of roles do you see yourself playing?
I love to play humorous characters such as young Anna from “Frozen.” I truly enjoyed this role as it captures who I truly am.
Khan’s debut marks the start of a budding career. With her array of talents and future goals, we are bound to see more of the young actress in the future and more representation of Indo Caribbeans in mainstream media. If you would like to purchase tickets for Disney’s “Frozen,” click here.
Indian-American commercial real estate and land consultant Anita Verma-Lallian launched Camelback Productions at an event held in Paradise Valley, Arizona, Jan. 7. Billed as the state’s first women-and South Asian-owned film production and entertainment company, it will focus on South Asian representation and storytelling, according to a press statement issued by Verma-Lallian. The announcement follows “Arizona Governor Doug Ducey’s $125 million film tax credit for film and TV production that was introduced in July 2022, “ the statement added.
The Jan. 7 private launch party and meet and greet introduced investors and supporters to what’s ahead for Camelback Productions.
Noting the “major push to see minority groups represented in the media over the past few years,” Verma-Lallian said she wants to see more South Asians represented. “I want my children to see themselves when they watch TV. I want my daughter’s dream to become an actress to become a reality. Skin color shouldn’t be a barrier to that.”
The event opened with remarks from Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who has served as the city’s 62nd mayor since 2019. She welcomes the company to “the greater Phoenix community.” She expressed confidence that “the team will attract some of the country’s top talent to the Valley.”
Guests at the event included actor and comedian Lilly Singh, actor Nik Dodani, Aparna of Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking,” Bali Chainani and Anisha Ramakrishna of Bravo’s “Family Karma” fame, and Paramount+ executive P. Sean Gupta, to name a few.
The company is Verma-Lallian’s first venture into the film industry. She is known for providing full concierge services for land seekers and developers of all types of sites and assists investors in discovering viable properties in the Phoenix area through her company, Arizona Land Consulting, the statement added.
Named in honor of the iconic Camelback Mountain in the Valley, Verma-Lallian says she wants her production company to have the same indestructible foundation. Camelback Productions plans to begin its first project later this summer.
Haider wades his way through Karachi’s expansive beach, climbing and tumbling over rocks, in Mumtaz’s memory. The vast landscape is perfectly encapsulated in the 4:3 aspect ratio — an unconventional yet welcoming choice. He vanishes into the sea, leaving his storyline open-ended. The screen fades to black. The film comes to a close. The gentle humming and lapping of the waves disappear. However, I stay put. Stumped, and unable to comprehend the masterpiece that Saim Sadiq, director of “Joyland”, has blessed Pakistanis with.
“It’s so important to narrate these stories in today’s world, where we’re often divided and seldom united,” says producer Apoorva Charan during an exclusive chat with Brown Girl Magazine.
It’s her feature film debut as a producer, and she’s justifiably beaming with pride.
Joyland is such a win for South Asia, but particularly, Pakistani storytelling. Every person I met, I felt like there was some characteristic or quirk about them that mirrored our characters in the film.
Set in the depths of androon Lahore, “Joyland” primarily revolves around Haider (Ali Junejo) — a meek, unemployed house husband in a borderline, passionless marriage. He’s happily helping Saleem bhai (Sohail Sameer) and Nucci bhabi (Sarwat Gilani) raise three kids, while the fourth one breaks Nucci’s water in the opening scene. Another girl is born, despite the ultrasound’s previous declaration of a baby boy.
“If I were to receive an award based on my character in “Joyland”, it’d definitely be for “best at single-handedly increasing the population of Pakistan,” says Gillani, as we howl with laughter during our spoiler-riddled chat with the cast of the film. “I think that, combined with the ‘coolest bhabi’ — those two will have my name on them.”
But Nucci’s wasn’t just a bhabi who pumped out a new baby every year. Sarwat’s character was given some level of agency — a woman who reminisced about a career in interior design before marriage and kids while smoking a cigarette in secrecy.
I think my philanthropic work plays a part in how I started saying no to bechari roles. How can I be a role model to these women I’m trying to help, while playing the same characters? The change came about with “Churails” and I vehemently stuck to it. My characters need to have a voice; a backbone.
On the other hand, Haider’s wife, Mumtaz (Rasti Farooq), works as a beautician at the local salon, busy dolling up brides in Lahore’s unpredictable load-shedding.
Both Haider and Mumtaz seem to have a relatively stable marriage based equally on societal expectations and gender-flipped roles. While Haider stays home, helps in the kitchen, and attempts at searching for a traditional job, Mumtaz carves autonomy and independence for herself. This is in spite of an oppressive family life characterised and dictated by Haider’s overly conservative, traditionalist father and patriarch, Rana (Salmaan Peerzada), who wishes for the couple to procreate a cricket team of just boys.
But Rana, known as Abba Jee, is also layered with his own 50 shades of grey, struggling with loneliness and a lack of intimacy, mirrored in his relationship with next-door neighbour Fayyaz (Sania Saeed). His emotional desires are symbolised by his physical impediments — the former handicapped with “what will people say”, and the latter with a wheelchair. The rules that he has for his children are the same that his children have for him, bound by tradition, norms, and society. They are not allowed to stray from what is considered “normal”.
The film’s women are strong which is pretty much a reflection of the women in Sadiq’s life. While Abba Jee shuns the love and companionship that Fayyaz offers, she stands her ground until firmly asked to leave. The complexity of each person’s emotions versus expectations is what makes “Joyland” relatable on a human level.
Alternatively, Mumtaz’s relationship with Haider is based on convenience and habit, where two people share the same bed but sleep facing away (partially because one of Saleem and Nucci’s young daughters crashes with them every night, illustrating the confined space both Haider and Mumtaz are allowed to be themselves in). The dynamics of their marriage drastically evolve once Haider’s eye catches Biba (Alina Khan), covered in blood as she walks numbingly into the hospital where Nucci gave birth. The introductory scene mirrored the brutal reality of violence inflicted upon Pakistan’s trans community; one of “Joyland’s” most haunting moments.
Mumtaz is asked to quit her job once Haider lands a gig as a “theatre manager” — a cover-up for his job as a background dancer at the nightclub Biba coincidentally performs at. The film portrays the traditional Pakistani marital social dynamic; men must work, and women must housekeep. Even when some level of independence is allowed to a married woman, she must forego her right to a career later in life. Understandably, it leaves Mumtaz devastated.
“It’s so strange how that’s just an acceptable act in our society,” Farooq chimes in, voicing Mumtaz’s thoughts. “Even if a woman is good at a 100 things, ultimately, she’s expected to quit her job to be a homemaker because that’s ‘her job’.”
With time, Haider falls into a routine and rhythm of working at the theatre and spending more time with Biba, allowing him an insight into the widespread transphobia she’s regularly faced with. Biba confides her innermost desire to be what she termed as “a complete woman” in order to land the same dancing opportunities as her counterparts.
Haider’s daring closeness to Biba leaves Mumtaz — who at this point is reliant on him as a best friend more than the physical intimacy he fitfully provides her — alone, isolated, and depressed. For Haider, it is liberating to leave problems at home and escape into a secret world centred around his deepest desires. He doesn’t want to be a bad person. He doesn’t wish to hurt or leave his wife. But his happiness now seemingly lies in dancing and exchanging stolen kisses with Biba. Farooq agrees:
I think Mumtaz and Haider were best friends at this point. They had an unspoken love for each other, which stemmed from the sanctity of their relationship. They might not be in love but they did love each other. In the eyes of our society and otherwise, they were married, but they’d drifted so far apart. There was love but it wasn’t possible to return from how distant they were.
This point of no return brings Haider to a crossroads — one where he is torn between his loyalty to Mumtaz and his love for Biba. Ultimately and ironically, in a particularly passionate moment, it is his curiosity pertaining to Biba’s sexuality that drives her to throw him out of her life. Defeated and guilt-ridden, he comes face-to-face with a pregnant and non-confrontational Mumtaz, who, by now, is aware of what Haider has been up to but doesn’t have the mental capacity to verbally digest his infidelity alongside a child she doesn’t want.
Her apprehensions about bearing and raising children are indicated throughout the early days of her pregnancy. The clutching of her stomach, the tightening of the rollercoaster belt during a visit to Joyland park, and her unease during the ultrasound are just a few examples of Mumtaz’s angst.
Abba Jee’s 70th birthday was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mumtaz, surrounded by family and friends and feeling emptier than ever, takes her own life. A tragic full circle where one life ends as the other begins. Her suicide is harbingered by Rana’s birthday speech as he recalls a palmist once saying his bloodline would end with Haider.
“Joyland” is replete with polarity. There is a seamless hand-in-hand flow of happiness and devastation, longing and antipathy, birth and death. Pakistani society’s struggles with misogynistic gender roles are depicted in the most gentle, sensitive, and nuanced ways. The struggle is also ironic, considering Pakistan has one of the most progressive transgender legislations in the world. Trans people have the right to self-identify their gender in Pakistan – a right still denied to the trans community in many progressive countries, such as the UK.
A deeply reflective film with memorable and emotional characters doing justice to their performances. It’s currently running in cinemas here in the UK, and we highly recommend watching this poignant piece of art.