Brown Love: BBC's Strictly Soulmates
I finally got around to watching BBC Three's Strictly Soulmates: Hindu last night. The concept of the series is simple: each episode, several members of a faith try to find their perfect partner, through contemporary and traditional methods. In this episode, 3 young Hindus try to find their future husband or wife: social worker Jalpa, a 25 year-old party girl with a taste for bad boys; Amardeep, an enthusiastic, but romantically clumsy 22 year-old student; and 28 year-old H, trying hard to find a "suitable" boy before she ends up on the shelf for good.
As a BBC Three production, it was well put together: the characters are easy to empathise with; the soundtrack is upbeat pop; the cinematography is dynamic, with short-depth-of-field; Scott Mills gives engaging commentary; there's an element of jeopardy to the story; and a compelling, fairy-tale story with the ultimate happy ending.
But, the programme didn't investigate a significant question deeply enough: why would you only marry a person of your own faith? To some viewers, this would smack of backward migrant culture, or even racism: after-all, if an Essex girl were to say she would only marry a white guy from Chelmsford, she would probably be accused of prejudice.
The actual answers are fairly reasonable: for my cousins, who had dated white girls but married Indian ones, it came down to several things: expectations of family and parents; wanting to be with someone with similar values (particularly the importance of extended family); and an honesty about wanting to get married. These questions would have given the programme more depth about the significance of marriage in different cultures.
The programme did a good job in dispelling the myth that arranged marriage is the same thing as "forced" marriage. The experiences seen here would be familiar to any modern Briton: being introduced to someone, and if you like them, giving it a go. The difference is that a Hindu's family often gets much more involved: potential marriage partners are found through aunties, uncles and extended family, as the word gets out through the Asian Grapevine that another eligible bachelor or bachelorette is on the hunt.
The Hindu approach is probably more accepted in wider British society than it was ten years ago. Dating in the early Noughties had an "I'm-not-looking-for-anything-serious" element, where someone was desperate if they admitted to looking for marriage. Today, however, looking for a soulmate has become increasingly acceptable - just look at Match.com's marketing strategy. And the "aunties" who do such a great job for Hasmita seem like a much more appealing, if brutally honest, way of finding "The One" than a computer algorithm.
Overall, it was an entertaining programme, but a very surface investigation into how culture and heritage influence your life choices - it didn't tell us anything about how religion affects love and dating. What was reassuring is the realisation that, whatever your religion, we all crave the same thing: sharing our love with someone. And whatever your background, it's not an easy formula to crack.