“No” can be a sentence, whole and beautiful. Deepti Vempati, one of two Indian origin contestants on the expedited-marriage reality show Love Is Blind, said it at the altar – to Shake Chatterjee, the other Indian origin contestant. She used several more words than just “No”, but the most eloquent of them all was her smile.
A Reddit forum with insider information from the show’s crew suggested that producers had offered Deepti the chance to speak at the altar first, knowing that Shake had already been talking about rejecting her. Perhaps the sequence was mildly staged, but the emotions could not have been anything but real. The effect of the sequence went much further than entertainment. It offered a pop culture model that shows a possibility that more women in particular should emulate. Sometimes we need to see what others have done before we can imagine it for ourselves. The post-show reunion was probably the best episode of the season. Deepti was nothing but graceful and self-possessed. Shake, meanwhile? Someone who didn’t even date him told him: “You are unbearable.”
What happened immediately after the rejection was also beautiful. Earlier in the show, we had seen that Deepti’s mother was the head of their household, more vocal than her spouse and speaking for the family in what looked like a benevolent leadership style. Deepti’s mother followed her out of the ceremony and more than comforted her, but also verbally affirmed her bravery and sweetness. That’s two amazing South Asian women onscreen – talk about good representation. Shake’s own mother, who openly sided with Deepti early on, also challenges preset expectations of Indian mother-in-laws.
Much is said about representation, especially in film and television produced in the West, which is subsequently broadcast globally. This reach impacts both people who live where the show is set, and people elsewhere, including the places where the characters or cast originate from. What resonates and what causes discomfort will vary greatly between these locations and is naturally subjective (for instance, many people in the West loved seeing the brown family in the series Never Have I Ever; to me here in India, I was dismayed by how it seemed to be about any other rightwing-inclined NRI family in the USA, and I never bothered to watch past the first season).
But Deepti’s No – that matters anywhere, whether in the region or in the diasporas, and is one of those not exactly common instances when “South Asian” as a marker does actually apply across several cultures. For a South Asian woman who has agreed to marry, especially in a pressurised situation (reality show or family drama – same thing, sort of!), to then listen to her heart and make the choice to say No, no matter how late into the process, is a big deal. It’s rare. It’s role model behaviour.
A friend of mine once told me: “Every time you say No to something, say Yes to something else.” That’s worth remembering. Deepti, and anyone who does what she did, has said Yes to herself, her right to be loved and not just settle, and to holding the door open to happiness ahead.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in March 2022. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.