Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking offers a skewed view of Indian culture

Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking offers a skewed view of Indian culture

As usual, we started off the week by surveying the Polygon staff to see what people have been watching — whether they’re on top of the latest cultural controversy about a virally popular Netflix series, discovering an animated gem ahead of the latest season, or educating themselves in older genre classics. As usual, the answers range widely, as some people check out what’s new and popular on streaming services, and some return to past favorites. Here are some thoughts on what we’re enjoying watching right now, and what you might enjoy watching as well.


Indian Matchmaking

Photo: Netflix

I have previously noted my distaste for reality television on this very website, but I put aside my personal preferences and decided to do my duty as an Indian-American by watching Netflix’s reality show/docuseries Indian Matchmaking. The show features Sima Taparia, a middle-aged Indian woman who bills herself as “Mumbai’s top matchmaker,” and who herself got married at 19 in an arranged marriage. Taparia travels across India and the U.S. to meet her clients, get to know them and what they’re looking for in a life partner, and then present them with potential matches.

Well, to clarify, Taparia presents them with “biodata” — a one-sheet matrimonial resume with each person’s vital stats (age, occupation, religion, ethnic background, education, height … y’know, all the important details), their own preferences in a mate, and of course, a photo. Then the clients pick one of the people in question, which usually results in a face-to-face meeting conducted at the client’s home — with family members from both parties present — prior to a proper first date.

Indian Matchmaking has been controversial in the Indian community, both among people in India, and among the diaspora. Some of the most salient points have come from critics who feel that the show reflects the “warts-and-all truth” of the Indian marriage-industrial complex, or are frustrated by its portrayal of Indian culture as “burdensome.” There’s plenty of stuff to cringe at, like the people who explicitly say they want to find someone “fair-skinned.”

But my wife and I were both put off something different: the lack of socioeconomic diversity on display. For the most part, Taparia’s clients on the show are upper-middle-class Indian-Americans or rich Indians. It’s unclear whether this is a function of decisions by the producers, a function of the clients who agreed to be filmed for the show, or simply a function of the kind of fee that “Mumbai’s top matchmaker” charges for her services. Whatever the reason, it means that for all of the clients’ unique personal stories, the show presents one particular image of Indian life. And that means that while in one sense, it’s worth celebrating Indian representation on a TV series that appears to have been aimed at a Western (i.e., white) audience, we just need to see much, much more of it — more South Asian people both in front of and behind the camera, to produce movies and TV shows that tell a wider range of stories from a tremendously diverse culture. —Samit Sarkar

Indian Matchmaking is available to stream on Netflix.


Total Recall

Arnold Schwarzenegger grimaces as memories are implanted in his head — or not?!? — in Total Recall.

Photo: TriStar Pictures

For those feeling cooped up at home and yearning for travel and escape, here’s my advice: Get your ass to Mars.

In Paul Verhoeven’s take on a Philip K. Dick short story, Doug Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is trapped in a mundane life, but dreams of journeying to the Red Planet. His wife, his job, and his reality keep him earthbound, so Quaid turns to the next best thing: a memory implant that will let him believe he’s been on a spacefaring vacation, courtesy of the virtual fantasy agents at Rekall Incorporated. With the click of a button, the construction worker can get a week of Mars-hopping adventures as a galactic secret agent burned into his brain, as if it all really happened.

But Quaid doesn’t know he may already possess those memories. He may actually be a secret agent from Mars, whose memory was wiped by government thugs. The confusion starts when Rekall attempts to implant the memory into Quaid’s brain, and “awakens” fragments of an original mission. Soon, henchmen are on Quaid’s tail, driving him to Mars to figure out what really happened.

Is Quaid actually a Schwarzenegger-esque hero, or is everything past the memory-implant sequence just the dream Rekall has sold him? Verhoeven, who also directed RoboCop, Showgirls, and Starship Troopers, lets us have it both ways, as our Hitchcockian fish-out-of-water lead navigates the futuristic streets of Earth, the Martian TSA, the planet’s underground communities of mutants, and caverns where the first evidence of alien life is hidden away. Total Recall’s vision of the future is a true spectacle, thanks to an array of stop-motion animation, models, mattes, and puppetry, but it’s still a gory Verhoeven satire at its core, depicting class warfare even in the new frontier. Though the movie might make you think twice before embarking on a virtual staycation, Total Recall is ideal “escapism” — a big action movie with something to say. —Matt Patches

Total Recall is streaming on Netflix and purchasable on Amazon and other digital platforms.


Infinity Train

A blonde teenager sits in a colorful fantasy landscape, surrounded by glowing giant purple and pink mushrooms in HBO Max’s Infinity Train.

Image: HBO Max

“Hey,” Petrana and Matt asked me last Thursday. “What are we doing with the season 3 launch of Infinity Train?” “What’s Infinity Train?” I asked. “Oh, it’s this animated series where people get stuck on an infinite train where every car is an entirely different magical world,” they said. (They speak in perfect unison like that all the time. It’s creepy.) “Well that sounds pretty unmissable,” I said, but they weren’t paying attention anymore, so I said it to myself and then sat down to watch season 1 and half of season 2 in a single sitting. Infinity Train is a lot like Steven Universe, in that episodes are 12 minutes long (so each 10-episode season runs two hours), a whole lot happens in each 12-minute chunk, the emphasis is on personal growth and recognizing your own issues, and it’s wildly surreal in an unblinking way.

With Steven Universe wrapped, Infinity Train is a great methadone, while being distinctly its own thing — an outsized act of wild imagination where the characters, who are traveling forward through the train, Snowpiercer-style, never know whether the next car is going to be a paradise or a hellhole, a world of friendly corgis or a deadly puzzle run by a paranoid, lying ruler. Because the series is so short and so fast-paced, it skips a lot of the scene-setting of most series. It’s whittled down to the absolute bone, mostly just action and important character moments. It can be pretty abrupt and staccato as a result, but it’s never boring. And I particularly like the daring turn it takes with season 2, in terms of switching up the story to keep things fresh. Season 3 looks like an equally bold story turn, so I’m entirely on board. Get it, Matt and Petrana? “On board”? (They still aren’t listening. Damn.) —Tasha Robinson

Infinity Train seasons 1 and 2 are streaming on HBO Max. Season 3 will launch on Aug. 13.


Last Chance U: Laney

A football player in uniform slumps on the bench with his head in his hands in Last Chance U: Laney

Photo: Netflix

Laney is the fifth and final season of Last Chance U, a documentary series about the lives of junior-college football players. No pressure if you haven’t watched the first four seasons: Laney stands on its own, trading the rural schools of the first four seasons for a reboot of sorts with Laney College in Oakland, California. In its new setting, the show captures something bigger than sport, bigger even than the lives of individual students. Laney is a show about Oakland. Through the stories of the college’s players and staff, Last Chance U becomes a compassionate document of the city’s ills: the rapid gentrification, the accompanying poverty, and the pushing of communities of color further and further from the cities they rely on for work, education, and opportunity.

The filmmakers take an empathic approach to their interviews, and they shoot the Bay Area in a way that captures its natural beauty without romanticizing a place that has broadly failed the film’s subjects. We’re about to be overwhelmed by the NFL’s coronavirus season, and its inevitable controversies. Last Chance U is a refreshing look at football without all the glossy marketing, an extraordinarily dangerous sport that brings people together, but often at a steep personal cost. —Chris Plante

Last Chance U is available to stream on Netflix.


The Exorcist

A frightening face looms out of the darkness in The Exorcist.

Photo: Warner Bros.

I don’t know if it’s the state of the world, the unbearable summer heat, or the fact that I haven’t left the city in five months, but last week, I woke up and said to myself, “It’s time to push my boundaries and start watching horror movies.” I started with The Exorcist.

So… a lot has changed since the 1970s. (Not sure if you knew this, but it’s been almost 50 years, ha ha.) Back then, people allegedly fainted over The Exorcist in theaters. If you’re like me and you’ve been putting off watching classic horror movies, give it a try. The Exorcist in particular is a slow burn, and although the practical effects hold up, they didn’t imprint on the back of my eyelids to torture me in the night.

Oddly, the scenes that stayed with me the most were those from Father Merrin’s trip to Iraq in the movie’s opening. The nearly dialogue-free intro is dreamy and disorienting. It’s almost an inexplicable way to start a two-hour movie, and more than anything, it marks The Exorcist as a product of its time, in the best ways. It’s a bold choice to kick off the movie with something so experiential, and I really dug it. —Simone de Rochefort

The Exorcist is streaming on HBO Max or purchasable on Amazon and other digital platforms.


Misery

Annie Wilkes shaves a bruised, bandaged, bedridden Paul Sheldon in Misery.

Photo: Columbia Pictures

Misery is another classic whose highlights have filtered into the national consciousness. If you know nothing else about this movie, you probably know that it’s based on a Stephen King novel, and someone gets their ankle broken with a hammer. But allow me to tell you, even having read the plot summary for Misery multiple times, nothing prepared me for the brutality of that moment!! Ow!

Misery is simply a damn good movie. It’s emotionally excruciating, and a wonderful chilly retreat from the hot summer weather. Famous author Paul Sheldon gets into a wreck driving down a snowy Colorado road, and is rescued by his “number one fan,” Annie Wilkes, a former nurse with a shady past. (Which was later explored in season 2 of Hulu’s Castle Rock.) It’s impressive how visually interesting Misery is, considering the main character is mostly confined to bed in a single room. Kathy Bates’ intense, erratic physicality as Wilkes eats up the space, and poor James Caan does a lot with tear-filled eyes. What a delightful, gut-churning way to spend an evening. —Simone de Rochefort

Misery is streaming on HBO Max or purchasable on Amazon and other digital platforms.


Host

A group of frightened people stare at their webcams in a group video chat in Host.

Photo: Shudder

I’m a big fan of Unfriended, the 2014 horror movie about a group of teenagers being haunted by their dead classmate via Skype. But in 2020, when nearly all of my socializing is done through a computer screen, the idea of a malignant force arriving via video chat is more terrifying than ever. Host, now streaming on Shudder, expertly mines that terror. As in Unfriended, the conceit of Host is that viewers are watching the main character’s computer screen. A group of friends bored in quarantine decide to host a virtual séance, but they accidentally invite an evil spirit into the world.

At a tight 57 minutes, director Rob Savage doesn’t overstay his welcome or drag down the narrative with any unnecessary filler. It’s impressive and spooky, especially considering that the actors had to rig up the cameras, lighting, and practical effects all on their own. Once I was done screaming at a jump scare, I marveled at how the actor was able to make her chair fly backward. Conceived, written, filmed, and released during quarantine, Host is a relic of a strange time in our history. Consider it a trashy sister film to She Dies Tomorrow, Amy Seimetz’s anxiety horror film. —Emily Heller

Host is streaming on Shudder.

A couple sits together on an elaborate gold throne-style loveseat in Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking.

Photo: Netflix