The Big Day on Netflix, a spiritual companion to Indian Matchmaking, barely dives into the reality of desi weddings

The Big Day, like Indian Matchmaking, is inclined to see weddings as a celebration and not as an industry. There is absolutely no talk about the amount of excessive money splurged on a wedding or even on the double-standards of the institution itself.

Poulomi Das February 16, 2021 08:12:15 IST
The Big Day on Netflix, a spiritual companion to Indian Matchmaking, barely dives into the reality of desi weddings

In the last one year, Netflix India has become adept at sheltering what I like to call the Rich People Culture Reality TV Show. These are sprawling documentary-esque glimpses into the lives of the affluent in the country that hide more than they reveal. These shows use the precise, unaffordable fixations of the Indian upper-class, be it their dating idiosyncrasies, wedding fantasies, or the perils of celebrity-adjacent living, to generalise the collective aspirations of an entire population. They don’t dissect Indian culture as much as summarise it, sugarcoating the thorny contradictions that make up India to retain a manufactured definition that exoticises the country instead of explaining it. And though these shows are set in India with a largely Indian cast, they’re almost always packaged with the sole intention of pleasing a Western audience. A more appropriate moniker for this sub-genre might just be the Dishonest Indian Reality TV Show.

After Real Indian Dating (What The Love! With Karan Johar), Real Indian Arranged Marriages (Indian Matchmaking), and more recently, Real Indian Rich Wives (The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives), the streaming platform's latest offering is “Real Indian Weddings.” A spiritual companion piece to last year’s sneaky Indian Matchmaking, Netflix’s The Big Day revolves around the hysteria of Indian weddings – or more accurately, “Indian-ish” weddings. Broken presumably into two collections of three episodes each, the first instalment of which dropped on Valentine’s Day, The Big Day shadows engaged couples in the intervening two weeks before they ready themselves for their big day. 

The show’s first collection is built on the outrageously lavish weddings of six couples – composed of both Indians and non-resident Indians – who share a similar language of class privilege, social capital, financial freedom as well as an illusion of progressiveness. Constructed like a piece of branded content and not long-form storytelling, every episode alternates between two couples, their interviews to the camera intercut with a jarring score, tacky B-roll footage, archival photographs, candidly staged intimate moments, and repetitive confessionals by their family, friends, and a knackered army of “luxury wedding planners.” To put it simply, The Big Day is nothing but an uninteresting, emotionally vacant compilation of wedding videos that should have just been uploaded on Instagram. 

In the first episode, we meet a couple whose biggest concern is not being able to come to a consensus about whether they have been dating for 11 years or 12 years. The other participant is a California-based couple who steadfastly believe that the best way to honour their Indian roots is by flying down to Chennai and hosting a beach-side Americanised wedding. For an episode that keeps hinting at how every Indian wedding has a distinct personality to it, it is awfully devoid of any. 

The second episode focuses on two brides lovingly villainised by their parents, extended family, and wedding planners for being too controlling about their own wedding. That the idea of a woman in charge rankles Indian society across class structures, isn’t necessarily a new discovery. And The Big Day (the show is produced by Conde Nast India, a media company that publishes luxury travel and fashion magazines) doesn’t possess the narrative heft to plumb through the depths of the internalised misogyny that expects a woman to behave a certain way for the convenience of others. 

This is best evidenced in the topics that the show brushes under the carpet. Take for instance, the fact that the show, like Indian Matchmaking, is inclined to see weddings as a celebration and not as an industry. There is absolutely no talk about the amount of excessive money splurged on a wedding or even on the double-standards of the institution itself. The show never acknowledges that one of the reasons that two people chose to get married to each other is the fact that they fall under the same bracket of class, faith, or caste. Even worse is how it delusionally states that weddings happen between two families who end up becoming one happy family. The implication that there is no conflict at all between the two parties is laughably absurd. 

Instead, there is ample posturing – a couple talk about the various ways they’re intent on reducing carbon footprint at their wedding that has invitees flying to a different state to attend it, another declares how weddings provide employment to locals, and almost all brides make a show about customising their wedding in a way that they can reject the regressive aspects of Hindu rituals (two brides choose to scrap “kanyadaan,” the act of a bride’s family officially giving her away to her husband’s family). In that sense, the duplicity of the filmmaking is perhaps the show’s biggest undoing.

On one hand, by foregrounding two brides who insist on taking their own decisions instead of wearing a cloak of coyness, The Big Day tricks us into believing that it is offering a counter to the expectations that Indian families have of submissive women. But on the other hand, that strain of progressiveness is undercut when it also chooses to suggest that the methods employed by these women are indeed exasperating.

The third, arguably the only episode that invites any curiosity, follows the wedding of two gay Indian men (one of them is a celebrity hairstylist so naturally Katrina Kaif shows up at his wedding) who have two separate ceremonies – one in Germany and the other in India. Their story is complemented by the ostentatious Delhi wedding of Gayatri Singh, the daughter of journalist Seema Mustafa. This episode flits between inclusivity and tokenism; for instance the injuries of Section 377 that prevented such a wedding to take place for decades are never uttered although it makes a big deal of underlining the importance of a gay marriage being treated as “just another marriage”. 

Yet the true pleasures of The Big Day is its accidental reveals of hypocrisy. In most of the matches, it’s evident that the women are settling for mediocre men, revealing that even to this day Indian men are exempt from societal expectations of attractiveness. One bride who otherwise champions the idea of not losing her individuality takes to complaining about not looking like a ”coy bride” in her wedding photos. Another episode has a groom confess that he is perfectly secure about his wife earning more than him, although his face tells another story. 

For all the talk about these couples claiming that they’re marrying men who look at them as equals, the unequal investment in wedding planning is stark. On more than one occasion, the grooms proudly boast about the fact that they haven’t contributed at all to any of the wedding preparations. One claims that walking into his wedding is going to be “as much of a surprise for him” as it is going to be for the guests. That the show never picks up on any of them is telling of how out of depth it is in the first place. If anything, it feels ironic to watch a show insist that modern Indian weddings are free of the traditional pressures of weddings when they still rely on the singlehanded labour of women. 

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