It’s easy to romanticize the age-old tradition of arranged marriages—that’s apparently the glue that’s holding Hindu families and the culture together. That’s because we only get to hear the sanitized, rose-tinted version of the marriage stories and overlook the misogyny, casteism, and bigotry since it has been normalized in our minds. Bollywood films like “Hum Aapke Hain Koun…”, “Vivah,” “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam,” and “Namastey London” are infamous for doing this. Meanwhile, shows like “The Big Day” and “Indian Matchmaking” are guilty of repackaging traditionalism as modernism at a time when we should be telling the Indian youth to break this cycle of patriarchy. Roshan Sethi’s “7 Days”, which was released earlier this year, does further the sickening custom of arranged marriages. And Netflix’s “Wedding Season” comes very close to doing the same. I know this all sounds negative, but hear me out.
Directed by Tom Dey and written by Shiwani Srivastava, “Wedding Season” follows Asha (Pallavi Sharda), who works in micro-finance. Her father is Vijay (Rizwan Manji). Her sister is Priya (Arianna Afsar), who is about to get married to Nick (Sean Kleier). And her mother is Suneeta (Veena Sood), who is so desperate to get Asha to marry someone that she lies about her personality on a matrimonial website. That’s where Ravi (Suraj Sharma) comes in. His father is Dinesh (Manoj Sood), and his mother is Veena (Sonia Dhillon Tully), and the two of them run a restaurant. Ravi is an MIT graduate, an aspiring DJ, and helps out his parents with the restaurant on the side as well. Asha and Ravi go on an arranged date. They realize they aren’t interested in each other. But, in order to avoid getting heckled by nosy aunties and their parents, they decide to fake their relationship.
Basically, if you take all the aforementioned Bollywood films and all the films where a couple pretends to be in a relationship and then falls in love (“Pretty Woman,” “The Proposal,” “Jab We Met”), you have “Wedding Season.” But it’s the aspiration to be something more than that that counts. Although everything between Asha and Ravi is overly Hindu in nature, the multiple weddings that they go to show the intersectionality that has permeated into Indian culture abroad. There’s even some minor commentary on casteism. But the best thing about the film is the focus on Asha and how she always prioritizes her work and her dreams of expanding her horizons professionally. It shows us that a person can aspire to love and be loved, but not at the cost of what they truly want to be. If your so-called better half is willing to support you, they can join the ride. If not, then they can take the highway.
A major bright spot in “Wedding Season” is the cast. Pallavi Sharda and Suraj Sharma click so quickly that you have to keep in mind that the union of their characters is the result of a regressive tradition. As the movie progresses and delves into Asha and Ravi’s individual characteristics, both Pallavi and Suraj get to showcase their comedic and romantic chops. Kudos to Shiwani for loading them up with some of the wittiest dialogues in a rom-com. But it’s seriously insane how well Pallavi and Suraj walk the line between hot and funny, thereby making you wish you were them or at least with them. Arianna Afsar, Sean Kleier, Veena Sood, Rizwan Manji, Damian Thompson, Ronica Sajnani, Manoj Sood, Sonia Dhillon Tully, Gauri Prasad, and Julius Cho are amazing in their supporting roles. Especially the parents, as they get to show how overbearing Indians can be in their efforts to express the love they have for their children.
With all that said, let’s come to the downside of the film, which is so perfectly exemplified by Nick, i.e., the glorification of arranged marriages in Hindu communities. It’s unfair to expect Tom Dey and Shiwani Srivastava to talk about a community (for example, the Jewish-Hindu couple or the Hindu-Muslim couple) that they don’t belong to for the sake of representation. So, it is understandable why they settled on an all-Hindu affair. On top of that, big ups to them as they scrutinize the role of parents and relatives, how they assume that a woman needs a husband for “support,” and how they demean anyone who doesn’t have a salaried job. They even try to bring up the topic of caste. However, then they paint over it with glitter and “genda phool” just so that they can say that these customs are problematic, but they work out in the end, and everyone gets their very own song-and-dance numbers.
In conclusion, non-Indians and the NRI audience have always lapped up films in and around Indian settings, e.g., “Monsoon Wedding,” “The Namesake,” “Bend It Like Beckham,” “The Darjeeling Limited,” “Slumdog Millionaire,” and “Bride & Prejudice.” Because it either seems new and exotic to them or because it validates the sugar-coated image of Indian culture that exists in their imaginations. “Wedding Season” falls right into that category. But, those who have watched rom-coms like this and are aware of the cons and cons of traditionalism will probably have a tough time digesting everything about it. Thankfully, there’s a progressive through-line about supporting your daughters and ensuring that nothing comes in the way of their success. It does shine a light on some of the troubling elements in the Hindu culture. And it has two very attractive leads in the form of Pallavi Sharda and Suraj Sharma. So, with all that in mind, I will recommend “Wedding Season” as it deserves a watch.