‘The Big Day’: Wokeness as Wedding Aesthetic 

This is not your regular cringe binge. That’s all we know so far. Because The Big Day, Netflix’s latest feature centring more rich people, doesn’t know what it wants to be. It tries to be a progressive docuseries on modern millennial Indian weddings. The only weddings we see, however, are Olympic-sized spectacles and comparisons with Bollywood, royalty – essentially the same tired cliches used to describe how the fabulously wealthy marry.

This means that exactly everything about the big fat Indian wedding formula stays the exact same except for the bespoke rituals. In one case, a bride appears to shop online for a priest who can speak English and who is willing to throw out sexist rituals – as if the rituals were the only thing about weddings which aren’t feminist.

There are several other instances of shoehorned feminism in the confessionals, the contents of which can be summed up in one unintentionally relevant shot of a wedding planner’s office with a ‘girl boss’ wall-hanging in the background. This is the entire ethos of the show: being your own boss – gender, sexual orientation be damned – at carefully crafting exclusivity.

In another segment involving a same-sex marriage, there is no discussion at all about how such a marriage isn’t even legally recognised in India and isn’t possible for anyone who cannot afford to leave the country. And besides, let’s be honest – very, very few people can afford to have Katrina Kaif perform at their weddings. And fewer still, compared to the size of the Indian millennial demographic, would be invited to such weddings.

This is ultimately a show about upper-class, upper-caste Indians who are breaking only the norms which are inconvenient to them, but couched in language which makes it seem like a larger culture is being challenged. There is, however, nothing in the least which is imaginative, creative, radical or unique about a Bollywood-themed sangeet. But because it involves a troupe of professional dancers, cute customised tickets to the bar counter and more, we are excitedly shouted at by white people in sherwanis about how they felt like they stepped into a Bollywood movie. To recap, this is supposed to be a show about redefining Indian weddings.

Also read: ‘Indian Matchmaking’: A Regressive and Cringeworthy Ode to Arranged Marriages

There is also nothing even remarkably different about the planning process itself, and there is no introspection on whose big day the wedding actually is. Throughout most of the show, it is the brides (instead of their parents) taking the event into their own hands, with the grooms simply nodding by their sides, mouthing platitudes about deferring to women where they are better at things. One of the grooms jokes about how his only role was to ask “what’s going on”.

In the next episode we are lectured about gender roles in a marriage and how it is okay to be a “Type A” woman. We see women as decision makers, but this newfound agency in marriage is undermined by the fact that much of it is financial agency which has been inherited, and most of the updated aspects of the weddings are those which money can buy – which isn’t quite the progressive makeover that it seems.

Despite the weak efforts at making Indian wedding culture look adaptable to modern progressive sensibilities, the fact remains that it is one of the most rigid, exploitative, unsustainable industries up-cycled into an Instagrammable veneer. More insidiously, the series glosses over the fact that as we speak, many Indians are less free than ever to even marry, never mind on their terms. The ‘anti-love jihad’ laws, for one, are already stopping inter-faith marriages from taking place, despite what the show portrays in its third episode. Couples who defy norms – whether of homogeneity, caste endogamy or sexuality – are relentlessly harassed and persecuted if they don’t have the same privileges and safety nets that the couples on this series do. The way in which the tradition vs modernity dichotomy is dealt with here is to marry the two (pun intended) by having upper caste priests officiating the nuptials with custom-made rituals.

Behind the grandeur and the spectacle, there is only the vacuity of the uber globalised young India being politically correct in smooth accented tones but whose ultimate goal is really only to have the most #goals wedding ever. There is nothing here which we haven’t seen before. It is rich people throwing money at lavish things in the name of adding a personal touch – something which would have been framed as tacky and would have been a different show entirely had it been coming from the nouveau riche. Its singular claim to originality is the designer wedding invitations, unlike the already luxurious box and dry fruits affair that “most of Delhi” does, according to one mother.

Such a thing would’ve still been an enjoyable watch if it had called itself a reality show instead, done away with the faux progressiveness, and had some self-aware ludicrousness about how an Alice in Wonderland themed sangeet or a farmers’ market mehndi looked to the world outside that bubble. The tasteful, Instagram filter-esque camerawork lingering on the glitter and dazzle and the twee indie background music, however, all betray a complete absence of irony. It’s all part of the #Aesthetic.

Rohitha is a freelance writer and independent researcher. Her interests lie in the field of gender, politics and popular culture.

Featured image credit: Netflix