Sima Taparia’s Matchmaking Business Booms in Lockdown

Sima TapariaIllustration by João Fazenda Is it possible to find love in 2020? Yes, according…

Sima TapariaIllustration by João Fazenda

Is it possible to find love in 2020? Yes, according to Sima Taparia, the star of “Indian Matchmaking,” a new reality series that is to “The Bachelor” what chai is to White Claw. Taparia maintains a database of South Asians who claim that they want to settle down. Her clients, who are based around the world, come with such demands as “good-natured,” “not a lawyer,” and a working knowledge of geographic phenomena. “He didn’t know Bolivia had salt flats,” Aparna Shewakramani, a Houston lawyer, says of a failed suitor in one episode.

“She thinks finding a life partner is like ordering from a menu,” Taparia tells viewers. “She wants open-minded, she wants that, this. Many of these things are not very important for a happy married life.” The show premièred in July, on Netflix, but Taparia has been a matchmaker since 2005. (Previously, she imported and arranged artificial flowers.) She is actively trying to match more than a hundred clients—often with the help of experts, such as a “face reader” who, upon squinting at a head shot of Shewakramani on a cell phone, declared her to be “obstinate and stubborn.”

“The business is growing in lockdown,” Taparia said the other day, on a video call from her home, in Mumbai. She wore a kurta and lipstick—both red. Her initial fee is typically a few hundred dollars; she receives a lump sum if she facilitates a marriage. “My system is, I go to the client’s house, I see their way of living, how they are financially,” she said. Lately, she has had to make do with video calls. “At least it’s satisfying that we see each other on FaceTime. I don’t work as though I’m a broker or in some type of finance—it’s all emotion.” She has made “two big matches” during the pandemic, both stalled since the betrothal. “Only fifty people are allowed at a wedding right now. Here, we want to do a big fat wedding, a huge fat wedding.”

Smriti Mundhra, the executive producer of “Indian Matchmaking,” joined the call from Los Angeles. She had a shoulder-length bob; children’s drawings hung on cabinets behind her. Mundhra, who is forty and grew up in L.A. and Mumbai, had been tracking reactions to the series. “There are a lot of people tweeting that this upholds a very narrow, caste-ist infrastructure,” she said. “They’re not wrong. But, ultimately, it’s where Indians are as a culture, and I’d rather talk about it and engage with it than just pretend it doesn’t exist.”

Mundhra’s aunt introduced her to Taparia in 2008. “She said, ‘Please find a match for her,’ ” Taparia recalled. After eighteen months, they called off the search. “I had given her a few matches, but Smriti is full of character,” Taparia said. “Those matches didn’t match her.”

“There were a couple people I would’ve considered, who rejected me,” Mundhra said. “I was never the ideal body type,” she added, “but I have light-skinned privilege. My family would talk about that—‘Oh, she’s a little chubby, but she has good fair skin.’ ” Taparia nodded knowingly. “In India, they still want fair skin,” she said, despite recent campaigns against popular skin-lightening creams such as Fair & Lovely. “They want good height. They want good education. They want good family—everything, they want. You know Aishwarya Rai?” she asked, referring to the actress, model, and former Miss World winner—“I explain to them, you will not get Aishwarya Rai.”

Mundhra ended up marrying “a Brazilian-Irish guy” from her Columbia University M.F.A. program and filming a documentary about arranged marriage, “A Suitable Girl,” featuring Taparia’s daughter. Afterward, Mundhra told Taparia, “We’re going to get you a show.” She pitched “Indian Matchmaking” to Netflix in 2017; the series became one of the ten most watched on the platform in the U.S. and in India.

Shewakramani joined the videoconference from Houston. After a late night—“I watched Episodes 1 through 5 and got a couple hours of sleep”—she had decided to take a personal day. “I said I had a bad headache, and like half my office got COVID, so they were, like, ‘Oh, God, is it . . . ?’ I was, like, ‘I don’t know, maybe, bye.’ ”

“Aparna, you have such a good sense of humor,” Taparia said. Shewakramani met six men over the course of the series’ filming, but none of them stuck. She remains hopeful. “I mean, yeah, the world situation right now is not ideal,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find love.” Taparia suggested virtual dating; she’d begun to arrange meetings over FaceTime. Mundhra suggested, “If you like a guy, you can let him stand at the end of your driveway.”

Shewakramani considered this. “Maybe he’ll have a boom box over his head,” she said. “Maybe that’s what I need.” ♦

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