Bellaire Resident Aparna Shewakramani Emerges as Netflix Star
2020 has been a standout year for all of us. For Aparna Shewakramani, the coronavirus pandemic isn’t even the half of it.
Over the past week, the 35-year-old went from being a Houston lawyer living a private life in Bellaire to an international sensation garnering thousands of followers on social media. Aparna, who attended Condit Elementary, Lanier’s Vanguard Magnet Program and Bellaire High School, is a standout character on Indian Matchmaking, a Netflix reality show that released last week. Since the show aired, Aparna has become the subject of endless memes, emotional Twitter debates and national news articles. How is Aparna handling it all? She’s just enjoying the ride.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” she says. “But a fun one – I’d do it again.”
“It” all started about two years ago, when Aparna, an avid traveler, was at LAX waiting to board a flight to Houston. The flight was delayed, she recalls, so she was killing time by scrolling through Facebook. She spotted an interesting post from a friend that read: “Are you single? Are you South Asian? Are you looking for your life partner?” Aparna checked all those boxes and proceeded to click through the post and fill out an application to be cast on a dating show. She submitted the application on the spot.
Aparna had no idea she’d be cast on the show, let alone that it would become an instant hit worldwide. “In my mind, it’s so strange that I did something so rushed on my iPhone and it created this,” she says.
On the show, Aparna is one of several clients of Sima Taparia – a woman in Mumbai who earns a living as a “matchmaker,” connecting hopeful brides-and-grooms-to-be with their future partner. The show is a probe on arranged marriage, an age-old practice that remains common in parts of South Asia. In traditional arranged marriages, parents – sometimes with the help of a matchmaker – select a spouse for their son or daughter, considering a person’s family background and education along with physical traits like height and attractiveness. Indian Matchmaker shows examples of how dating and matchmaking works in the modern world among both Indians in India and Indian-Americans.
Aparna, who challenges traditional gender norms and Indian cultural stereotypes with her strong opinions, career focus and blunt remarks, quickly emerges during episode one as a polarizing character. To some – including Sima the matchmaker herself – Aparna is self-centered, picky and negative. To others, she’s the show’s ultimate heroine. Progressive and headstrong, Aparna knows exactly what she wants in her life partner. She isn’t about to compromise on her values or settle for anyone who doesn’t fit into her life.
In episode one, Aparna is first shown in her Bellaire home with her two best friends, pouring a glass of wine and grabbing a slice of pizza “kicking off a fat pants Friday,” as Aparna calls it. Over the course of the episode, she reveals the multitude of men she’s rejected in the past – the football fan, the “funny man,” the one who didn’t know that Bolivia had salt flats – apparently that’s a deal breaker for Aparna.
Today, messages are flooding Aparna’s Instagram. People from all around the world – the Netherlands, Russia, India – are sharing their thoughts. Some people are critical of the show, saying it perpetuates toxic views like colorism and casteism. Others appreciate that Netflix took on the topic of arranged marriage. Many find certain scenes entertaining, for instance when Sima consults astrologists and face readers to figure out whether two people will have a successful relationship.
Aparna says she is focusing on the positive feedback and appreciating the opportunity to discuss subjects that might otherwise go under the radar.
“I’m interested in the dialogues and the nuances and the more thought-provoking questions that are coming to me because for me, that’s what it’s all about,” says Aparna. “I see that it’s also wonderful television and it’s great entertainment and I appreciate everyone who watches the show. But what I really am enjoying and what I’m really taking away from all this is all those conversations.”
***Spoiler alert ahead*** Aparna expresses appreciation for the show and her experience despite the fact that it did not exactly fulfill on its purpose. While Aparna signed on to the show for a chance to meet her soulmate: today she’s still single – and it seems that most, if not all, of the show’s characters are, too.
Over the course of the eight episodes, we see Aparna date four different men. One she rejects after the first date because the man did not have a plan for his life. Other dates seem like they have potential, but chemistry is lacking.
Aparna doesn’t seem at all put off by the fact that a relationship didn’t pan out. In fact, she says she remains close friends with at least two of the men she dated – Dilip and Shekhar – and has found a sense of camaraderie with the show’s entire cast.
She also appreciates that the show puts a spotlight on Houston, a city she has grown to love for its culture and dining scene. Houstonians are curious where Aparna’s dates took place and Aparna is happy to share: date spots included Goat Yoga Texas in Cypress, Bosscat Kitchens and Libations on Westheimer, Liberty Kitchen at the Treehouse and a Well Done Cooking Class in the Heights. Aparna also reveals on the show that she has a favorite spot for first dates, which she strictly limits to 55 minutes. She times the date such that the prospect only has an hour until the restaurant closes. That way, it’s not another wasted long evening if her date turns out to be a bore. Those dates usually take place at Sonoma Wine Bar, she says.
What’s next for Aparna? The fiery attorney has been considering a move to New York City for some time, though coronavirus has delayed it. She’s also excited to grow her travel business, My Golden Balloon. As far as love is concerned, Aparna is open to whatever might come her way.
“I have never shot down an opportunity to meet someone new, whether that comes through a friend or a blind date or a matchmaker or an app,” she says. “I’m open to all avenues and I remain that way. I don’t think there’s any reason for me not to think that the person could come from anywhere, at any time.”
Editor's note: Read more about the tradition of arranged marriage and perspectives from Buzz-area couples here.
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