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Photo courtesy PopShift YouTube Channel

Desi Me Dating — PopShift’s cultural shift away from Indian Matchmaking

By Aymen Sherwani, September 29 2022

Growing up, the only voice and representation that people in the South Asian diaspora had was from Bollywood movies — many of which were hard to relate to because of language barriers, ethnocentrism, misogyny and subtle jabs at minorities — but not really anything that reflected the unique reality of a brown person living in America or Canada. Ironically enough, it was Mahatma Gandhi that said that you need to be the change that you wish to see in the world — that if you do not see yourself represented then become that representation. 

“I started PopShift because I felt like there wasn’t really a media company that represents South Asians in North America — the goal was to create a cool, safe space for people to consume content that reflects us,” said the director and founder of PopShift, Raghu Alla, in an interview with the Gauntlet.

“Originally, I only wanted to cover music-related content, but we wanted to create something meaningful that people could engage with as well,” he added, in reference to videos addressing issues like toxicity in the community, nepotism and the nuances of being a desi person living in North America — dismantling stereotypes and outdated cultural norms along the way. “I was like ‘wait, this is actually connecting people and they’re resonating with it’ and from there it turned into a space where we address things that should be spoken about but aren’t.”

PopShift’s most recent venture? The second season of the blind dating show called Desi Me Dating, which Alla swears is not like Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking. Many in the community have called out the latter in reference to how, rather than dismantling them, it enables toxic notions like colourism, ageism and looking down on women who don’t “adjust themselves” in relationships.

“Even from just seeing the trailer [for Indian Matchmaking], I was like, ‘yeah, this is definitely not for me’ because it’s catered to a broader, whiter audience,” says Alla. “They’ll take the whole arranged marriage stuff and then play that up a lot or cook it up into some story but always catering to a certain angle. 

“The intention is to be inclusive of everyone,” Alla continued when asked about how Desi Me Dating was any different from Indian Matchmaking. “When it comes to South Asian dating, we wanted to have deeper conversations throughout our episodes that are more than just making decisions based on visual references.” 

The first episode of the second season of Desi Me Dating, instead, features two people — Ankush and Kiran — both separated by a curtain and given a set of questions to ask one another surrounding everything but their “biodata.” For our non-South Asian readers, biodata is a mechanism used in traditional arranged marriage procedures in which an individual is required to include a photo of themselves alongside their age, caste, height, weight, level of education, occupation, their parents’ occupations and whether they have been divorced or widowed in the past. The purpose of the curtain on the show then? To reinforce the idea that caste, colour and age don’t matter as much as how well you can get along with someone. 

“With the curtain being in the middle [of the couple], you’re kind of peeling that layer to start off — going through a blind date already makes you nervous in general, but the curtain really helped people feel more comfortable and allow them to get to know each other before the reveal,” said Alla. “We don’t want to deal with the traditional way of matchmaking at all.” 

In my personal experience, even I’ve witnessed women being rejected from arranged marriages for being “too dark,” “not having the right last name,” being “too fat” or even that they’re more educated than their potential spouse — all of which reinforce classist, racist and sexist norms that solidify inequality in not only the subcontinent but also in the diaspora as these norms are brought over to North America. 

The tagline of the show is “Desi Me Dating, They Hating,” to the tune of Weird Al Yankovic’s Ridin’ Dirty — the putting the kitschiness of using Weird Al’s music aside, Alla affirms that there’s a good reason for it being as such. 

“When you’re dating someone, parents are often hating or criticizing them for not being from the same culture, not being tall enough, not being light skinned enough, belonging to a different religion or whatever,” he said. “On the show, I think it came back down to, ‘are you being inclusive for all the South Asian community?’ and that represents a lot of different things now because it’s not just ‘what country are you from?’ but also gender norms, sexuality and all this other stuff.”

The first season of the show breaks cultural taboos and dares to ask questions like “does age really matter?” — something that would be a fairly obvious “yes” if you spoke to someone from an older generation of a patriarchal society, but not as such to people in it’s diaspora who have grown up with the understanding that a woman’s value doesn’t rest in how old she is. Later episodes feature a queer Pakistani and Sri Lankan couple — the roots of homophobia and ethnocentrism run deep within the subcontinent, but seeing a relationship like this is a reminder that culture of the South Asian diaspora in North America is unique and a culture in it’s own regard rather than an extension of nations across the world. 

In that sense, it’s a lot more comforting knowing that you aren’t half of anything, a part of you is not left some place that’s thousands of miles away nor are you a failure for not adhering to their expectations, but rather that you are whole in your own regard. 

The second season of Desi Me Dating was released on Sept. 27 on their YouTube platform — their content also extends to TikTok and Instagram, so be sure to check it out.

This article is a part of our Voices section.

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