An interview with the CEO of SecondShaadi.com, and could Karan Johar covertly be our most progressive director?
We live in a society where there is tremendous pressure to get things right the first time. You make your first decision about what you want to do for the rest of your life at the age of 16 when you choose between “Science” and “Commerce” (and God forbid, the “Arts”!), and every single decision about your career stems from that first choice you made, even before you were old enough to order your first beer! In most cases, people marry their first love (or the first person their parents choose for them); and everything after that just sort of falls into place. But what if it doesn’t? What if your first choice was not the right one for you? The alternative is so dire that we’d rather not even talk about it. We looked everywhere we could and discovered that no official body in India even compiles divorce statistics!
There is anecdotal evidence that about one in hundred marriages ends in divorce ; but is this relatively good performance because Indians are better at making marriages work, or worse at knowing what options are available to them? Or is it, more alarmingly, as a survey by noted lawyer Kirti Singh discovered, because divorced women have little recourse to financial restitution of any kind – often not even the dowry and jewellery they bring into the marriage?
Thankfully, things are slowly changing.
In 2013, the Cabinet passed a proposal to allow women access to the man’s ancestral property as well as part of the divorce settlement (although the implementation remains to be seen).
Apart from that, some companies are beginning to wake up to the reality that there is life after one’s first choice - one of which is Vivek Pahwa’s secondshaadi.com. We spoke to him to find out if the idea was ahead of its time, and what’s next for Second Shaadi.
On the users of SecondShaadi.com
Vivek launched SecondShaadi.com in 2007. The idea behind it is still relatively niche, and the emphasis throughout has been on building a smaller but more engaged audience than chasing just numbers. While the number of users (the site boasts of about 200-250 new log ins daily, and has an engaged audience of 150,000 active users) may not compete with the conventional matrimonial websites, the audience is also a lot more engaged and interested than on other platforms. Interestingly, Vivek tells us, they see nearly as much interest from smaller towns as the bigger metropolises, with the number of logins being roughly proportionate to the population of these centres.
A key differentiator from other matrimonial websites is that Second Shaadi sees a lot more of its users creating their own profile, rather than having their parents or the elders of the family doing the first level filtering for them. This is largely due to the more mature audience wanting greater control on their choices and decisions.
The website also actively markets its services to singles above the age of 28 who may not be previously married but are mature enough to take control of their destinies and are open to meeting partners who may have been in a relationship previously.
On how matches are made
With a small but actively engaged audience base, Vivek’s emphasis has been on building a platform that provides robust matches for its audience, and they adjudge their success by the number of high quality matches that they can provide each of their engaged users. Unfortunately though, the filters even for a second marriage remain largely based on the users’ age, community, location and height, with the market not yet ready for a matching algorithm based on interests and other activities. But Vivek and his team continue to work on refining and improving their backend algorithm to bring more people together.
Three to Watch on The Dissolution of Marriage
Bollywood- like the rest of India- has been behind its’ time in portraying marriages that break because of an incompatibility between the two partners. Even if there is a second marriage, then in all likelihood, its because one of the partners is a widow/widower (Andaaz, Hum Tum, Babul) , or occasionally has been unfortunately married to someone so horrible, that even the audience are willing to have her escape. Even in such instances, a passing dialogue often expounds that the marriage was ‘never consummated’ to allow for the image of the beautiful virginal heroine. But things are changing- even if only in the very urban and rich households that make up most of mainstream cinema’s characters.
Here are three recent examples of people finding love after a marriage that seemed alright on paper. A special mention must be made here of 1982’s Arth where Smita Patil rejected her cheating husband but also chose not to marry her new paramour since she’d much rather experience living for herself – if only there were more such occurrences in Bollywood!
Love Aaj Kal
One could almost argue that Vikram (Rahul Khanna) is a better long term life partner than the immature, selfish Jai (Saif Ali Khan). But the heart wants what the heart wants (and how refreshing is that as a lesson!). Just because Meera ends up marrying Vikram, the plot doesn’t jump through loops to justify her decision. Instead, she leaves her husband, busies herself with her life – and waits for the one she loves to come to his senses. We like to think that she would’ve just as happy even if he hadn’t!
Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna
Whatever the flaws in the movie, and there are many, you have to hand it to Karan Johar for not vilifying any of the participants in this complicated love polygon. Dev and Maya are not bad people, nor married to bad partners. They’re just utterly, completely, entirely wrong for any one but each other- and all four of the characters in the story are happier when they realize this.
Bombay Talkies- Ajeeb Dastaan
Very rarely would you find us lauding two Karan Johar movies for their progressive attitudes (this is of course the same director who is obsessed with how ‘heavy’ anyone who’s not Deepika Padukone is). But in his roundabout and slightly repressed way, he does his bit to subvert masala shenanigans and shine a light on unhappy marriages and second chances. In the course of this short film, in a bravura performance, Saqib Saleem manages to shake Dev (Randeep Hooda) out of his marital funk and come out of the closet. But the most interesting transformation of the movie is reserved for Rani Mukherjee’s Gayatri. An outwardly modern woman, Gayatri struggles to understand why her marriage is not working, and when she finally finds the truth, it’s oddly liberating for her. The decision to let go of Dev is as much about her realizing that she doesn’t need to be in an unhappy marriage to stay fulfilled, as it is about Dev coming to terms with his sexuality.