It's a Match: Arranged Nuptials on Indian TV

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    It's a Match: Arranged Nuptials on Indian TV

    By Rama Lakshmi
    Washington Post Foreign Service
    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    MUMBAI -- In a two-minute video clip televised here last month, 29-year-old Amit Daruka and his doting parents listed the attributes of the ideal bride for him -- she must be tall, fair-skinned and respectful of her elders, share Daruka's ethnicity and horoscope, and be ready to work in the family's garment business.

    The video also showed Daruka enjoying a meal at home with his parents, praying with his mother, driving his Honda to work and out clubbing with friends. The program's hosts then chatted with the family in the studio and urged interested viewers to send a text message.

    Welcome to the latest wrinkle in India's age-old tradition of arranged marriage.

    News of eligible prospects is no longer brought by helpful priests or family aunts. In the past couple of decades, as Indian communities fragmented and families scattered, people looking to marry had already begun using other means, such as classified newspaper ads, marriage bureaus and the Internet. Now, India's booming television industry wants to play matchmaker, expanding the universe of arranged marriage with three wedding reality shows.

    "My parents have been looking for a wife for me for the past four years. We have tried every other medium, but nothing clicked," said Daruka, a businessman and vegetarian who defers to his parents in the search. "Television is a very transparent medium. You can assess compatibility by watching a person's body language, the pitch of her voice and the kind of home she lives in."

    Star TV, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, conducted audience research that it says revealed two major issues vexing Indian families: their sons' education and their daughters' weddings. So the channel, which until recently aired mostly soap operas dominated by family squabbles and intrigue between mothers and their sons' wives, decided to help viewers find mates. Last month, it launched "Star Vivaah," or "Star Weddings," the daily afternoon show on which the Darukas appeared.

    "Our program is the YouTube of arranged marriages," said Rasika Tyagi, Star TV's vice president of programming, calling the show "a huge leap forward from four lines in a newspaper classified and a grainy clip on the Internet."

    On "Star Vivaah," she said, viewers can see prospective partners' homes, "the view from their balcony, the kitchen, how they dress and live, what car they drive."

    Tyagi said it often takes months for families to share photos of their eligible sons and daughters. "We shorten the process and empower them to take decision," she added.

    The show's creators decided to feature only engineers, doctors and MBAs in the first few episodes, so viewers would not brand it a platform for losers. But family members are also required to appear along with the prospective brides and grooms.

    "The new Indian woman wants to check out what the mother-in-law will be like. She wants to see who takes the decisions, the son or the mother," Tyagi said.

    Perhaps the biggest service the show provides is to pose the questions that a young woman and her family are afraid to ask.

    "The arranged-marriage market is mostly tilted unevenly against the woman's family, who are always in an inferior position. They fear the boy may just walk off if they ask tricky questions," Tyagi said. "We ask every question they want to ask but don't dare to -- about his job, income . . . and the number of children he wants."

    The show takes care not to upset the social apple cart too much, invoking all the cliches of arranged marriages except for the outlawed but still prevalent practice of dowry-giving. Men want "simple," sari-clad wives who can balance the demands of career and joint families. They want a wife who is trendy but also observes India's age-old cultural traditions. Mothers say they want a daughter-in-law who will not take their son away from them. Women are shown going to the office and driving cars but also washing rice and demurely disclosing details of horoscope, caste and clan.

    On a recent afternoon, a crew from Star TV interviewed the family of Rachna Dalal, a 25-year-old pilot who earns $4,500 a month flying Boeing 737s and lives alone in a rented New Delhi apartment.

    "I want to marry a pilot. Only a pilot can understand my work schedules and the night flights," said Dalal, round-faced with dimples, adding that she would also prefer a vegetarian, nonsmoking teetotaler. "He should earn more than me. And I do not want to live in a joint family and will not tolerate anyone who asks for dowry."

    As she spoke her mind on camera, her brother painted a more coy picture. "She can be a good Indian wife," Manoj Dalal said. "She performs all the housework, cooks well and respects elders. And we want a man from our caste, or the relatives may boycott the wedding."

    To portray Dalal embracing career, tradition and modern urban life with ease, the video crew shot her in her pilot's uniform, running on a treadmill, driving and attending salsa classes. But they also showed her in a traditional salwar-kameez, making tea and serving it with biscuits to the family.

    The channel is finding just one problem with its new show: Perfect arranged-marriage matches often make for boring TV. "We want to provide a valuable service. But the nicer the matches are, the less entertaining the show gets," Tyagi said. "My battle now is to figure out if my job is to play matchmaker or to entertain."
     
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