The mad new world of arranged marriages in India
Filmmaker Anandana Kapur's charming, insightful dive into an obsessive world of couples, dentists and detectives.
If you thought you knew everything about arranged marriages in India, you're in for a surprise. (See video)
The obsession over horoscopes. The tick-marks on fair, rich, NRI. The hyper-lavish ceremonies. The unspoken competition over bigger, better, blingiest. The OTT gifts, intrusive families, wedding planners, intricate network of pandits and pandals.
That stuff is old hat.
The arranged marriage industry in India is now operating on a whole new scale of inventiveness.
Marriage melas. Formal pitching sessions on stage. Detailed online application forms. Boutique agencies that prepare insight documents on shortlisted families. Detectives to verify your character and your salary slip.
Filmmaker Anandana Kapur dived into the subject not expecting to be surprised, and on many counts she wasn't. "On the face of it, there's the appearance of attitudes having evolved," she says, "but fundamentally it's still a negotiating table."
What has changed?
The sheer scale and sprawl of services that now exist to enable people to find and marry a suitable partner.
Her film Much Ado About Knotting is a fascinating deep dive into this dynamic new world of matrimonials. You're steered, humorously and with insight, through a bewildering array of wedding services that exist no matter what financial or social strata you occupy.
That includes dentists specialising in orthodontic treatments to give people better smiles in 'matrimonial' photos. It includes weight loss experts, opticians, and grooming institutes who tell you how to hold, pour and drink a cup of tea so as not to embarrass the partner you have yet to find. It includes private detectives to verify everything a prospective partner has told you.
It includes every shape and form of matchmaker, from mirasins - the wedding singers who form an informal web of informants about families with suitable girls and boys - to retired cloth merchants-turned-matrimonial-agents who go door to door verifying information about prospective brides and grooms, to an astonishingly niche network of matrimonial websites. Diabetic matrimony? BPO weddings? Government officers only? You no longer have to rely on aunts and neighbours to make a match. There are apps for that.
And the apps, modern as they seem, often reinforce the most deeply entrenched behaviours. "In many ways technology has disintermediated awkward conversations," explains Anandana. "Forms, or hired professionals, deal with the socially awkward conversations on your behalf."
Much Ado About Knotting does a superb job of illustrating that.
You join three protagonists - a boy in his late 30s, a girl in her mid 20s and an NRI couple looking for their 'brother ki dulhan' - on their bewildering search for a partner. What unfolds is deeply funny, revelatory and sympathetic. It's also uniquely Indian - in the way the most conservative social parameters sit happily alongside post-modern technology.
Above all though, Much Ado About Knotting is an insightful look at how pragmatism and complex emotions - hope, vulnerability, rejection - collide unselfconsciously every day in India's amazing arranged marriage industry.
It's a window into India we can guarantee will throw up a few surprises.