Three years ago, people hate-watched a Netflix match-making show, some for the utter bizarreness and others for the novelty. It’s just a good laugh, most said. Last week, the third season of Indian Matchmaking premiered with Sima aunty chanting the same mantras of “compromise” and “adjust.” But suddenly, the laughs weren’t loud enough to distract from the problematic ideas masked as casual one-liners. What changed?
The issue with watching clearly problematic content, no matter how high it may rate on the cringe-meter, is that popularity gives it the stamp of approval and brings in cash-flow to continue making these shows. Mumbai-based matchmaker Sima Taparia and her ideas about arranged marriage (“In India we don’t say ‘arranged marriage.’ There is ‘marriage’ and then ‘love marriage.’”) are not new. We all have relatives who call women “too much” when they express an opinion or choice, call themselves open-minded but casually ask you to marry someone from a “similar background” instead of explicitly saying, “please continue our obsession with caste” and appreciate any bare minimum effort by men.
“In the context of this show, for many Indians, Sima Taparia will feel familiar. People often have relatives who say the most problematic things but imposed social etiquette can make people feel helpless in such situations. Such shows often mirror the reality and hate watching is a way of expressing the reactions that are often suppressed by family,” Rinkle Jain, a psychotherapist based in Mumbai tells Lounge. “There is also a sense of virtual community in coming together to point out the issues and discussing mutual hatred for something.”
Collectively hate watching content often termed as “cringe” gives a boost of being morally superior. It’s another way of separating the self from someone who is clearly saying the wrong things, to chime in and point out all the annoying parts through mockery. However, hate-watching can often seem like fan behaviour, as pointed out by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong on BBC. “Hate-watchers exhibit the symptoms of fandom – watching every episode, micro-analyzing it with other viewers – while still abhorring their targets on a rational level,” she wrote in 2017 in an article, The Joy of Hate-Watching.
Having anything close to a fandom is important for streaming platforms, which are currently dominating the entertainment industry, to choose which shows to continue with and which to bid adieu to. When Sima aunty’s memes go viral, her face becomes a well-known one, and people continue to lap up any related content, it’s bound to get picked up for more seasons; after all, it’s a business. As all the laughs and the cringe gains momentum, her ideas also get a worldwide platform.
It takes you 10 minutes of watching any season of Indian Matchmaking to realise that Sima aunty has no idea about the main subject of the show: marriage. She is so caught up with tossing around conjugal wisdom, playing the archetype of the relative single people fiercely avoid, ensuring that the girls are “not too picky”, and coding caste expectations as “respectable families” (as Yashica Dutt writes in The Atlantic), that she has no clue why two people could be good companions and honestly, she doesn’t give a hoot about it. After all, as she said in the recent season, “You will only get 60 to 70 per cent of what you want; you will never get 100 per cent,” because the rest is, you guessed it, adjustment. For Sima aunty, marriage is like hopping on a random ride and spending the rest of our lives saying, “Adjust please” to a stranger.
If you are hate-watching, know it comes with consequences: more seasons of the same soggy ideas being dipped in patriarchy, casteism, and the white gaze in the name of entertainment. You see, love and hate both work very well for marketing, as Sima aunty has shown us for three seasons.