We have Indian Match Making, a reality television show on Netflix that markets marriage as an institution everyone should aspire to be in. This show was primarily made to point out the mindset of the Indians in their country and the diaspora living abroad, desperately wanting to be in touch with their culture and legacy. It paints only the happy picture of two families coming together in the name of holy matrimony. Then we have Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti’s Made in Heaven, which shows the ugly face of weddings and subsequent marriages. The show is as real as it gets. These are two opposite ends of the spectrums about one institution based on which the society of our country thrives.
Tanuja Chandra’s latest documentary, Wedding.Con, produced along with BBC India, talks about the horrors of marriages that are being initiated via matrimonial websites. Women are conned by men who approach them through these matrimonial websites. They are the targets of these elaborate scams involving money, and the documentary delves into the tough subject.
Wedding.Con begins with the stories of several women with high-paying jobs who live independently and happily. Priyanka is a divorcee with a daughter, Nithya is a software professional, Sneha is a banker, Veena works in sales and marketing, and Sandhya is a data researcher. These women have it all, especially financial independence. The only insecurity they have been fueled by their family and society, directly or indirectly, is their need to find the right partner for themselves. This led to women trying hard to find the right match for themselves through a matrimonial website, which is a family-approved way of dating and meeting their potential partners. This five-episodic documentary series covers the scams faced by all the women, and the depth of the nexus forms the crux of the show. Tanuja Chandra puts an ugly face of matrimony and the horrors faced by women just because scammers believe financially sound women are more vulnerable and easy targets.
Wedding.Con chronicles the lives of independent women who hope to seek the right companion. Sadly, they become part of an elaborate scam. Most of them learn of the scam when they wind up in debt, thanks to the loans taken by these women for these conmen. These scamsters either disappear or hang around without meeting in person. They offer hope and emotional support only through phone calls and messages, which pushes the women to stay and not refuse to end the relationship. There is a story of Priyanka being lured by an American Marine and being conned into parting with 53.8 lakhs until she realized she had been scammed by someone who ran the same con act with many women across the world. It was essential for Priyanka to snap out of the fantasy she had created for herself with the person named Mark, who offered to provide her with emotional and physical gratification. Priyanka and Mark’s conversation went on for months, and it involved countless transactions that included money she had saved up for her parents. Mark resorted to words that meant nothing as her debts were piling up, which snowballed into severe health issues. As the mother of a young daughter, she wanted to offer her a better perspective on life post-divorce, and her life was not unfolding the way she wanted.
Just like Priyanka, the other four women were conned through matrimonial websites, and men jumped into requesting financial help just when a slight intimacy was established. Nithya, Sandhya, Sneha, and Veena were hoodwinked, manipulated, and gaslighted into parting with their hard-earned money and emotionally blackmailed into continuing the relationship.
Tanuja Chandra gets into the details of the psyche of the women who were deceived and what may have caused these men to target only women. The documentary is filled with news from across the nation about how men of several age groups were arrested for swindling women by meeting them through matrimonial and making certain promises about marriage. There were expert lawyers, psychologists, and journalists who got into the depths of this subject and speculated on why, despite stringent cyber laws, financial frauds are being committed. The percentage of women being scammed is still very high.
Journalists and the police’s stress on laws to curb online fraud is strong, but the nature of the fraud keeps changing, and despite amendments, people find loopholes and come up with new schemes to cheat people. Here, the modus operandi was specific, and the police had to get to the bottom of it. The recreation of the scenes from the stories is a bit tacky, but it gives their tales of horror an image that is hard to forget. The stories are as real as they get, and ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ The amount of strain and anxiety these women had to go through was only because they were financially sound. These cases are still on the rise, and as the documentary states, there are no strict laws that could protect the victim.
An expert in the documentary states that most of the men are out on bail within a few months; they have begun their cycle of fraud, and there is no end to their addiction. It was brave of all the women to come forward and recount the horrifying experience through the documentary. Reliving the experience must have been triggering for most of them, for they all lost a big chunk of money in the hope of retaining a man they trusted.
Wedding.Con stressed the fact that women are conditioned and programmed to always have a partner by their side despite having a good job and a salary that sustains them. This subconsciously pushes them to seek emotional validation in every way possible. There is no agency given to women to make a living choice of their own. This message comes across well throughout the length of the show. These men tap into the vulnerability of the female sex, take advantage, and milk money as much as they can. The writer and the documentary explicitly explored the dowry demands that are rampant in many parts of the country, even though the practice is banned by law. Sadly, these women end up being blamed, shamed, and chastised for carrying out a deed they thought was right. The focus was also on women afraid to approach the police, out of fear of being shamed by society. Crimes like these are underreported because women are afraid to have law enforcement officers come by their homes for questioning, and there is generally a gossip angle given to anything that involves women being the victim of the crime. Women fear not being supported by their family and friends, which stops them from coming forward with their dilemmas. There is a direct impact of these societal worries on crime statistics, and it does not help the police and other investigation teams come up with proper case files to strengthen cyber laws.
The documentary does create a genuine fear amongst the audience and the viewers. In the world of the digital age, there are not too many tools to safeguard people’s identities and money. The documentary rightly exposes how the data shared with the matrimonial websites is unsafe. The digital world is as bleak and vulnerable as the humans that operate in it. Only tough laws, crackdowns, and rigid sentences could reduce the number of crimes. One of the journalists rightly states that if women were to live their lives without any burden of having a partner, the men would lose their target, and it could bring down the crime statistics.
Tanuja Chandra’s documentary and Akshay Jhunjhunwala’s writing brought out the problem with the legal system and social structure of our society, which do not allow women to make mistakes and are expected to remain perfect and kept on a pedestal. Parental support is key in this matter. In cases of women who are highly educated and earning a good salary, they end up having almost zero support in such financial fraud matters. Only two men were caught by the police authorities, as per the documentary, and they were granted bail in a short period of time. Wedding.Con is a must-watch documentary that talks about the crime and perspective of Indian society. Our laws and the people badly need an upgrade.