Matchmaking show for Pakistani singles looking to wed
By Zarar Khan, AP writer.
KARACHI, Pakistan (AP, 6/10/06) Are you young? Single? Pakistani? Then “Shaadi Online” is just the Western-style dating er, marriage show for you.
Using a combination of prime-time TV and the Internet, “Shaadi Online” has helped arrange dozens of marriages since going on the air in Pakistan three years ago, shaking up a conservative Muslim culture in which family networks usually decide who weds whom.
Unlike bawdy American and European shows that pair up couples for an embarrassing night out in the glare of the cameras, when the contestants choose a mate on “Shaadi Online” which means “Marriage Online” in the Urdu language they really mean it.
Not only do viewers seem to like watching young Pakistanis choose their partners, the show offers a community service, helping men and women in what can be an agonizing search. Regular dating is comparatively rare in Pakistan, and a familys status and wealth are usually critical for a match. A prospective bride often endures scrutiny by many suitors before finding a husband.
Among the success stories are Sadaf Amir, 22, and her husband Amir Shaikh, 29, a pharmaceutical sales representative. He was the standout among a staggering 8,000 men who expressed an interest in marrying Amir after she appeared on the show.
“It was great fun and much easier than the painful process of readying yourself to be shown to a new family … and getting rejected,” Amir said in the small home she now shares with Shaikh in the southern city of Karachi.
Shaikh said he had failed to find a wife through traditional matchmaking, “but this TV show did it for me.”
Each weekly program showcases two men and one woman, introduced in a prerecorded video presentation showing their family, friends, and work life. Once on the set, they are gently questioned by the hosts on their preferences for a mate.
That information is fed into a computer database of 100,000 singles. They are presented with a list of possible matches to choose from and, on the show, they phone the ones that most catch their eye, while viewers listen in. Singles who have registered with the database via the Internet can also express an interest by email.
A guest married couple is also on the set to offer advice on the suitability of a proposed match a nod to Pakistani tradition that was certainly never featured in the original dating show: Chuck Barris irreverent “Dating Game” on American TV in the 1960s and 1970s.
On a recent “Shaadi Online,” 20-year-old Aliya Ansari, who lives the United Arab Emirates, was seen in her video walking on Dubais white-sand beach, saying she was looking for an open-minded, professional, and tall husband who would like to live in Dubai with her.
As fate would have it, one of the computer match-ups was Muhammad Kashif, a 24-year-old banker in Dubai, who happened to be one of the two men featured on the same show which also caters to Pakistani expatriates looking for a partner in their homeland.
“He looks nice and impressive,” said Ansari, who was wearing an orange T-shirt and skintight blue jeans.
“She is very beautiful,” responded Kashif, casually dressed in a black shirt and light brown pants.
Ansaris main concern was whether her would-be husband would allow her to work as a flight attendant. The reply from Kashif: “I have no objection if she insists.”
They chatted about their respective families, and the show ended with the two shaking hands and smiling, apparently ready to become lifelong partners.
Surprisingly, “Shaadi Online” has not attracted strong resistance from the countrys formidable religious lobby, although some conservatives if asked object that it is frivolous and undermines the Islamic nations values.
“Our marriage and matchmaking has its own norms and traditions, but some television channels are implementing a certain agenda to Westernize society and harm our values,” said Merajul Huda, the leader in Karachi of Pakistans biggest religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami.
“This program is a glaring example.”
Most matchmaking in Pakistan is done between families or go-betweens, although in cities some resort to classified ads in newspapers or matchmaking agencies. In rural areas, in particular, many end up marrying their cousins.
“Shaadi Online” has also recorded shows in Dubai and London, catering to Pakistanis who struggle to find a suitable mate because they live overseas. But the shows makers play down comparisons with Western dating shows.
“This is not really a dating show,” said host Mustanswer Hussain Tarar, a prominent romance writer and actor. “It offers a helping hand in making a social contract with the consent of the couple and their parents.” So far, its matched 35 couples for marriage although many more may have been paired through the website.
But not every applicant seeking “Shaadi Onlines” help has been single.
“I was little puzzled when a lady came with her husband to get him a second wife as they were childless after several years of marriage,” Tarar said.
The couple never made it on air, although according to Islamic tradition, a man can take four wives if he can support them all.