Bollywood wives, matchmaking — 2020’s cringe binging scrapes Netflix, Amazon barrel

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Matchmaker Sima Taparia in Netflix show ‘Indian Matchmaking’ | Screen grab from YouTube


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The year 2020 has been the year of cringing and binging — online and offline. Scraping the bottom of the Netflix and Amazon Prime barrel, we have devoured desi cringe-binge extravaganzas like Indian Matchmaking and What The Love. But there is nothing like good old Bollywood stardust when it comes to addictive snacking. And that is what The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives will offer – with all its salacious talk of men, money, and Mercedes.

If you thought watching Roadies, Splitsvilla or Emotional Atyachar on TV was bad — we now have the online versions of it, though much better edited, shot, and strung together.


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Reality TV is better than real life

On 13 November, Netflix released the trailer of The Fabulous Lives of Bollywood Wives, a series that promises to give us a glimpse into the lives of four ‘star’ wives. The cast includes Anil Kapoor’s sister-in-law Maheep Kapoor, Ananya Pandey’s mother Bhavna Pandey, Salman Khan’s sister-in-law Seema Khan, and actor Neelam, who is married to Sanjay Suri. And there also might be a cameo by none other than Shah Rukh and Gauri Khan.

The trailer reveals that the four women have been friends for 25 years. From coming across as the desi version of American reality TV shows such as The Real Housewives and Keeping Up With the Kardashians, the gloss on the show is already blinding.

In the trailer, Maheep Kapoor can be heard saying: “People have this misconception about us that we have these ‘Oh so glamorous lives’ but that’s not really true. Our lives can be quite mundane.” I don’t know who these ‘people’ are, but the ‘mundane’ life she’s referring to involves shopping in a Rolls Royce. All right then.

No matter how much you make fun of it now, you and I both know we’ll probably end up binge-watching a few episodes.


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‘Ready for love’

In What the Love, India’s attempt at bringing a desi Queer Eye vibe, director and TV host Karan Johar decides he will transform his sappy romantic films into ‘real’ life and help people find love ‘KJo style’. What ensues is seven long episodes of nothing but makeovers, celebrity pep talks by stars like Ali Fazal, Sunny Leone, and Mallika Dua, and voila! Love is in the air, with a dash of glamour. He calls himself the light at the end of the ‘dark tunnel of love’. So much for humility.

‘Experts’ are brought in to resolve the ‘issues’ each person on the show is dealing with. But somehow this is done and dusted within mere minutes, regardless of what the person is going through — the trauma of a sexual assault or low self-esteem after years of being body-shamed.

But as one IMDB reviewer wrote, “I really don’t understand the negativity around this show. I found it highly enjoyable, if not outstanding.” When you begin ‘enjoying’ shows that offer nothing in terms of value-addition, and breeze through real issues by ‘glamming it up’, that’s cringe binging for you in a sentence.


Also read: How women are now rewriting the rules of Bollywood, with help from Netflix, Amazon


Binging the Cringe

Urban Dictionary, the go-to for all the latest internet parlance you need decoded, defines ‘cringe binge’ as looking to the internet for cheap entertainment because you are extremely bored. And for most of us, the whole of 2020 has been just that, thanks to Covid-19 lockdowns and our non-existent social lives. Staying in and staying safe has, for many people, automatically translated to ‘Netflix and Chill’, or for that matter, any OTT platform and chill.

When Indian Matchmaking was released on Netflix on 16 July, it created a huge buzz. The eight-part docu-series features elite Indian matchmaker Sima Taparia, or ‘Sima Aunty’ as per the many memes.

the show gave birth to, as she goes about trying to find suitable matches for her wealthy clients in India and the US. The show primarily targeted a Western audience, the kind that thinks ‘big fat Indian weddings’ are the be-all and end-all of ‘Indian culture’. But of course, our own binging had as much role to play in putting the show at the No. 1 trending spot on Netflix for weeks on end.

We hated it, dissected it, made jokes and videos — even if parading oneself in arranged marriage meet-ups can be a traumatic experience and goes against our beliefs — but we still were hooked. It was so bad, that it was good. Now we can’t have enough.

Despite being horrified by the regressiveness of the Indian society that the show highlighted, we continued to lap up cringe-y depictions of India’s special brand of colourism, casteism and sexism. If Karan Johar was trying to be the light at the end of the love tunnel, Sima Aunty proved to be the giant chandelier in the shaadi hall that you can’t ignore.

Hate-watching during the pandemic has made us openly embrace the deep cringe fantasies and guilty pleasures we usually sweep under the deep corners of our brains that enjoy Bigg Boss.

The cringe-fest offered on OTT platforms, such as the Netflix show Too Hot To Handle, seem to rely on the ‘failsafe’ method of snooping. We are all like Maheep Kapoor with her giant binoculars, unapologetically voyeuristic and interested in the lives of others. After all, this is what has kept us hooked on to shows like Bigg Boss for years on end.

And during a year when you are stuck at home, what else can you do. Serious movies are too serious, you have seen all the romantic comedies, stand-up comedy specials have all become the same. So a brain-numbing, but deeply satisfying cringe binge it is. Or what Kayle Chayka from The New Yorker calls the rise of ‘ambient TV’. The shows that you can play on your laptop, while scrolling on your phone or eating dinner. The shows that don’t need any emotional or intellectual investment, and can reliably play in the background like ambient noise. Let’s be honest, how much longer can Indians just watch FRIENDS.

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