It’s a Saturday night in October and Sydney-based Preeti Kothari and Heena Kajaria are in their element. As hundreds of local Indians gather at a garba event to celebrate the Hindu festival of Navratri, the two middle-aged women approach young singles and their parents to promote their matchmaking service, Soulmate Matrimonial.
The warm, bubbly Indian 'aunties' have been in the business of helping coordinate arranged marriages for six years. After constantly being asked by family friends to match their children or siblings with suitable suitors, Preeti identified the need for a dedicated matchmaking service and launched the company in 2018.
“I started this service for the sole reason of providing personalised, friendly and customised making services for the Indian community,” Preeti tells Draw Your Box.
With over 2,300 clients registered on their website from various countries such as Australia, New Zealand, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore and Malaysia, Preeti and Heena’s expertise has now been enlisted by clients of another sort. The duo are set to appear in SBS’ new show, The Matchmakers, a three-part series exploring how in an era of online dating and high divorce rates, many Australians are returning to the tradition of matchmaking to find their partner. Their role of helping South Asians in the west attain their happily ever after on TV could easily remind viewers of the famous Aunty Sima from Netflix’s Indian Matchmaking.
There are parallels, but Preeti insists they’re not simply Aussie versions of the streaming giant’s memorable TV star.
“Of course, you can somewhat compare us,” says Preeti. “But in her series, she goes to everyone’s houses and looks through their wardrobe,” she laughs. “We don't do that, but we do help all of our customers to meet each other personally.”
Audiences get a glimpse into Preeti and Heena’s process in The Matchmakers, when they’re tasked with helping 35-year-old Abhi find his future wife. An initial video call with Abhi and his father helps establish exactly what the Melbourne-based bachelor is looking for in a partner. How important are cultural aspects such as caste and religion? Are they willing to be flexible on physical appearances, career choices and location?
“He's a very open-minded boy and very flexible – that’s what I like in Abhi,” says Heena. “We show him the girls that are compatible with him.”
However not every client is as flexible to work with, making Heena note that some singles have wish lists that are far from realistic.
“Sometimes there are people who come with a checklist and that is always difficult for us… we are not making anything by order. We are showing you who is coming to us.
“You need to be a little flexible because at the end of the day for a soul mate, your souls should be matched. Your compatibility should be matched. It's not just the looks.”
With many candidates seemingly focusing on physical traits around height, hair or skin tone (note: South Asian culture has long had a problematic relationship with colourism and favouring fairer complexions over darker), Heena says it’s her and Preeti’s job to convince them that there’s more to a relationship than the exterior.
“They're just rejecting the profile and we always tell them that they shouldn’t just go off photos… if you feel that 70 to 80% of your criteria is matching, at least meet the person. There’s no harm in meeting, you're not committed to anything.”
In a world where singles can so easily swipe left or right to potential matches based on physical appearance, Preeti and Heena emphasise that the rise of dating apps has a place in the dating ecosystem, but not for their targeted clientele.
“I think the matchmakers are giving a personalised service. I feel the people on dating apps are maybe not as serious about getting settled down,” explains Heena. If singles approach Soulmate Matrimonial with the purpose of finding a “boyfriend or girlfriend”, Heena says “we don't encourage them”.
“We feel that this is an association we started for community betterment and getting settled down. If they want to be serious in their life and they want to get married and get settled, that is where we want to help them.”
With their own nine-to-five day jobs, Preeti and Heena must dedicate evenings and weekends to their matchmaking services. But they believe the power of arranged marriages is worth every minute of their time and resources.
“We feel very blessed that maybe God selected us to do something good for two families in bringing that happiness to them,” reflects Heena. “The candidates that come to us, sometimes they are my son or daughter’s age. So, I feel like I’m at a wedding for my own daughter or son.
“The happiness is priceless, and it’s a wonderful kind of feeling.”
The Matchmakers, which also features matchmakers from Muslim and Jewish backgrounds, premieres on Wednesday, February 14 at 8:40pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.