Two years ago, Houstonian Aparna Shewakramani casually filled out an application to be on a dating show — more interested in meeting Mr. Right than getting famous. Two years later, she’s recognized internationally as the breakout star of Netflix’s popular docu-series, Indian Matchmaking; she has even achieved first-name fame status.
The local reality TV star will discuss her Matchmaking journey and frenzied life ever since during an online fan chat sponsored by the South Asian Women’s Professional Network on Thursday, September 24 starting at 5 pm. The chat will include Matchmaking co-star Shekar Jayaraman and will be moderated by Sukaina Rajani, owner of local sweet shop, Macaron by Patisse. Fans can pre-register here.
Clever, opinionated, and unapologetic on the series, Shewakramani quickly sparked myriad memes and online debates worldwide as she traversed the dating world, offering memorable lines such as, “I don’t hate him — that’s a pretty big deal” or “oh, do we have to see our husbands all the time?” The 35-year-old, who grew up in Bellaire, was deftly edited to appear prickly and snobbish and was even dubbed “fickle-minded” and “...very rude in speech” by a pundit on the show.
While that may have made for good reality TV, Shewakramani is much more than a one-dimensional quote machine and meme generator. She is an insurance attorney who has launched a jewelry and T-shirt line, has a book deal in development, and is a sensation on Cameo, where fans squeal in delight when they view her 30-second online personal greetings.
Shewakramani is also an entrepreneur; she’s the co-founder of My Golden Balloon, a boutique and luxury group travel experience for busy young professionals who have serious wanderlust but don’t have the time or interest in planning their vacations. The company plans every facet of the trip — users can choose from selected itineraries and travel dates — and groups run 14 people or less to maintain intimacy.
Guests simply buy a round-trip ticket, and, “the minute you land, we take care of pretty much everything — from your five-star hotel to your immersive experiences to your internal transport and flights, if any. It’s supposed to be a way to adventure, but with some luxury,” notes Shewakramani.
Travelers can come alone or bring a small group; those alone are paired with people of similar interests: “If you’re a morning person, we’re not going to pair you with someone who claims they’re a night owl,” says Shewakramani. Private rooms and spaces are also available, and individuals can opt out of group activities. Vacations run $3,500 to $5,500 for four-day trips or eight-day trips to destinations including Ecuador, Colombia, Jordan, India, Bolivia, and Botswana. Shewakramani personally scouted the countries and trips to create the perfect experience for her users.
CultureMap caught up with Shewakramani to dish on her travel business, book deal, and of course, matchmaking.
CultureMap: My Golden Balloon is a fun concept. What inspired the name?
Aparna Shewakramani: It’s a play on the black balloon that you get on your 40th birthday that says you’re over the hill. And we say, no, in your 30s and 40s, forget the black balloon. You’ve got a golden balloon and you’ve got a golden opportunity.
We think part of that opportunity is to travel the world and explore and pamper yourself in ways you couldn’t in your 20s and won’t in your 50s — it’s like a window in time.
CM: You apparently did some serious market research. What did you find when you traveled?
AS: Our competitors charge the same price — but for three-star accommodations. I went on one of the trips and I was horrified. I was like, ‘Why are we, as 35-year-olds, living in these conditions for this price point?’ At that price point you should be very comfortable, with private drivers, at the Four Seasons, and having really cool experiences.
It’s not just about the resort or the hotel. It’s about cooking classes and metro tours. If you’re in Jordan with us, it’s about swimming in the Dead Sea and going to Petra the next day. It’s about the cool things you’d sign up for but we take the headache out of it for you.
CM: You were off and running, then the global pandemic came along. What have COVID and travel bans done to your business?
AS: We were almost sold out for all of 2020. We did a trip in February, which was our first one ever. And then our way home, COVID hit. We were in the Frankfurt airport and masks were being passed out in the Lufthansa lounge and there were temperature checks and we were like, ‘is this for real? What is this?’ We still didn’t have a grasp on it.
Quite quickly, we canceled our March trip, then our April trip — now we’ve canceled all 2020 trips and we’re reevaluating how that will look once we get more information. We’re hoping to resume for early 2021.
CM: Let’s talk about the fan favorite of Indian Matchmaking: you. People across the globe want to know — are you dating?
AS: I am not dating. I have so much going on that I sleep four to five hours a night, if I’m lucky — I don’t think anyone would be happy with me. I’m going to wait a few months and then start dating.
CM: How are you juggling being a full-time attorney, entrepreneur, and instant celebrity?
AS: I’m not sure I’m doing it so well. I deal with work emails, then press, which can go really late into the night if it’s Asia or Europe. It’s a lot, but it’s a great opportunity to engage with viewers after the show and that’s been so rewarding for me that I wouldn’t give that part up.
CM: So what would your dream gig be?
AS: I don’t know yet — I don’t think I’ve made that decision yet. I definitely actually enjoy the job I’m in — it’s the happiest I’ve been in my legal career. It also depends on this COVID situation; travel is a risky business to be in right now.
CM: We can tack ‘author’ onto your list of gigs, yes?
AS: Yes, I’m also writing a book. The proposal has been turned in and should be shopped to publishing houses in the next month or so. It’s Aparna’s 10 Rules to Life — it’s a lot of behind-the-scenes of the show and a lot about my life and what got me to be the person that I am that’s portrayed on the show and what that actually looks like in real life. A lot of women — thousands of women from all over the world — have said, ‘what advice can you give me?’ And that’s a big part of the book.
CM: Since you have a book in the works — would you want your own show?
AS: Yeah, that would be fun. I’m never going to say no to an opportunity like that. I’m not sure what it would be about: about matchmaking? Am I the matchmaker? A travel show? Who knows — maybe I should write Netflix an email and say, “Hey Netflix, I don’t even know who I’m personally writing to, but I’d like a show.’
CS: You know you’ve made it when there are memes about you. How have you handled all of this being thrust on you?
AS: The best I can. It’s overwhelming. Ten weeks ago, no one knew my name and now I sometimes think that’s all I hear — and that’s okay. I never want to say it’s easy, because watching yourself as a character on a television screen and having that person not reflect who you actually are, and then having people comment on that version as if it’s truth — that’s very uncomfortable and shocking.
CM: The reality TV experience can be quite jarring.
AS: I’m surprised how many people think reality TV is truth. They’re like, ‘I know you now,’ and I’m like, ‘What do you know about me?’ They taped me for hundreds of hours and you watched an hour of it and you think you know me as a human being. I’m not on Twitter — maybe that’s a good thing. On Instagram, people were quite positive and supported me in droves. The media obviously threw their whole weight behind me, and I appreciate that because they’re wise to reality TV. That was a big comfort to me because I’m just a lawyer in Houston and I am not wise to reality TV — I don’t even watch it.
There will always be trolls out there, but I don’t pay heed to them. I could read their comments or I could sleep for four to five hours a night. I’d prefer to sleep.
CM: What’s your advice for anyone looking to utilize a matchmaker? Would you recommend it again?
AS: It’s very interesting to consider this. A matchmaker is someone you’re getting into a relationship, as well. You’re not only dating the people the matchmaker brings to you, you’re dating the matchmaker, too — so you better get along with them.
CM: Any advice for the ladies if there’s another season of the show?
AS: Be very clear about what you want, don’t lose your voice in the process, and go forward with an open mind.
CM: You had an astrologer visit you. What’s in the stars for your love life?
AS: He told me I have three years to figure it out — so I better get on it. Who knows? We’ll see about his forecasting.
CM: How does it feel to be recognized not just as a strong, assertive Indian woman, but simply a strong, assertive woman.
AS: In a Season 1 of a show, people don’t know what they’re signing up for, they just know the intent of the show. The intent of the show was a docu-series to find us husbands and wives. So, we all went on with the intention of finding a significant other, and anything else that came out of it was a by-product that we could not have forecasted.
For me, that meant becoming a role model not just for South Asian women, but women in general, and not only in matchmaking, but in every place they exist. It’s about women wanting to be heard. And not only being heard, but saying they deserve what they’re asking for. It’s not just asking for what you want in life, it’s that self-worth that makes you believe you deserve it.