Two years ago, eligible bachelor Hussain Mahdi (pseudonym) was looking for a bride. So he registered with Taslima Marriage Media, a matchmaking company based in Dhaka.
Its proprietor Taslima Akhter, after perusing dozens of CVs, found a bride for Mahdi. She paired the families of the bride and groom and it was a happy union.
Owing to her successful matchmaking of the Mahdi family, Taslima became a family friend of Mr and Mrs Mahdi. However, as a professional matchmaker, Taslima usually does not have enough time to maintain regular communication with her former clients.
So, two years down the road, when both Mahdi and his wife called her and said they got divorced, Taslima was shocked. And to her surprise, the recently divorced ex-couple asked her to find them new partners - just the way she found them two years ago.
"Life as a matchmaker is eventful. You get to connect with hundreds of people and become a part of their lives in so many ways," Taslima said, breaking out in laughter as she talked about her interesting career as a matchmaker.
Taslima started matchmaking as a hobby prior to becoming a pioneering female in the field. For an HSC-passed housewife with four kids, this was a huge step back in 2011 when she dived into the business seriously.
With her talent and sharp business acumen, Taslima eventually built a matchmaking company that arranges seven to eight marriages a month while working as a wedding planner simultaneously.
In an increasingly digital and modern Bangladesh, parents nowadays are more open about their children's choices when it comes to marriage. Plenty of young couples these days are getting married to the person they love.
We grew up watching Bangla movies and dramas where we saw couples in love struggling to convince their conservative parents to accept their relations.
Now, these notions seem like a relic from the past.
Modern movies and dramas also took note of the changing social norms. The parents in silver screens now are more worried about getting their children married, whether love or arranged - it hardly matters.
We explored the matchmakers' relevance in the changing social spectrum; if they have enough clients as before, if the modern parents still value them, how much this sector has evolved with digitalisation and why modern couples would still find matchmakers a comfortable option.
"Guardians still trust us because they can demand as much as they want from us. If your friend, uncle, aunties or neighbour brings a proposal, you often cannot demand to have your expectations met, which you could charge a matchmaker like me with piles of expectations. So, they feel comfortable with us,"-- Kamrul Hasan Osman, the proprietor of Bibahabandhan.
We spoke to around a dozen professional matchmakers - from the famous Pakhi Bhai and Tufan Ghatak to online matchmaking companies.
We asked them how their business is doing and if families still seek their help to find brides and grooms for their children. Most answered that their business has been as usual. Even during the Covid-19 pandemic, when most other industries struggled to make money, matchmakers' businesses continued as usual. Wedding events had reduced but most marriages went as planned in a family setting.
"Guardians still trust us because they can demand as much as they want from us. If your friend, uncle, aunties or neighbour brings a proposal, you often cannot demand to have your expectations met, which you could charge a matchmaker like me with piles of expectations. So, they feel comfortable with us," said Kamrul Hasan Osman, the proprietor of Bibahabandhan.
However, one aspect every matchmaker agreed to was the change that came with digitalisation of the business over the last decade. It happened not only to the tech-smart newbies in the field, the wind of digitalisation also blew over the oldest matchmaker of the country - Ghatak Pakhi Bhai.
From analogue to digital
Matchmakers started becoming widely popular with the inception of Kazi Ashraf Hossain, better known as Ghatak Pakhi Bhai, shortly after the independence of Bangladesh. He started his business in the 1970s from Khulna. For the last 45 years, he has arranged over 18,000 marriages.
Tufan Ghatak, another superstar matchmaker based in Rajshahi, has been in the business for over 30 years.
Both Pakhi Bhai and Tufan Ghatak have reigned over the matchmaking industry for decades. But at present, nobody holds monopoly over the matchmaking market. With the evolution of a more digital world, the matchmaking business is now a shared dream of multiple matchmakers reigning together on the internet.
There are plenty of web-based companies, namely Bibahabd.com, Bibahobandhan.com, An-Nur Islamic Marriage Media, Taslima Marriage Media among others.
Most of these companies started matchmaking around a decade ago. Bibahabandhan and Ghatak Pakhi Bhai, for example, started as physical companies and turned to the Internet as time's demand.
So, what makes web-based platforms different from analogue matchmakers? Taslima explained that the difference is simple.
In offline media, the customers will need to visit the company's office, submit a hardcopy of their CVs, photos and pay a certain registration fee. Online platforms, on the other hand, accept CVs and pictures through the website.
Once the companies examine the applications, the ones that got accepted would be charged a certain fee depending on the packages.
Analogue matchmakers would connect potential brides and grooms in person while digital ones would connect one online profile to another. By paying a certain amount of money, you could explore a certain number of profiles online and connect to them.
However,not all online matchmaking portals are completely web-based. Some operate both physically and online since many customers, especially the guardians, are not as tech-savvy.
Upon asking the number of online matrimonial registrations, Md Seraj, user support executive of Bibahobd.com, answered that they receive 5,000 to 6,000 Bangladeshi profiles from all over the world every month.
He added, "We have a dedicated team that background checks the profiles, after which we approve their registrations."
Alongside online and analogue matchmaking companies, there are some matchmaking groups on Facebook where people, including potential brides and grooms, post their bios and photos with contact details.
One such Facebook group called BCCB Matrimonial: Heavenly Match has more than one lakh members.
Why do people still rely on matchmakers?
We asked retired Major Ibrahim, who married off his daughter through a matchmaker in 2019, why some people still rely on matchmakers despite increased connectivity and communication facilities. He answered, "First of all, they are professionals. They have a long list of potential brides and grooms. You can choose according to your wish."
He added, "My daughter is a well-educated and sober person. I was looking for a groom from a good family who settled in Canada, where my daughter studied, and a family man above all," he added to explain that when it comes to a long list of expectations, it is the matchmakers who can help you out.
Touhid, a businessman, got married five years ago through a marriage media. "The matchmakers are even more popular because the rate of divorce has increased. So relatives do not take risks bringing a proposal in fear of what may happen in the future," he said.
How much do matchmakers earn?
On average in Dhaka, offline matrimony companies require biodata and the non-refundable registration fee is generally Tk10,000. If a match is made, both the bride and the groom would have to pay from Tk30,000 to upto Tk2,00,000.
Online matchmaking companies charge as per the number of profiles you will be checking.
Rates are different in other parts of the country. Tufan Ghatak said, "I charge Tk2,000 to Tk5,000 per registration and Tk12,000 when a marriage is fixed. But to avoid paying this amount, parties sometimes arrange weddings by themselves without notifying me."
Matchmaker Taslima's big dream
As a versatile woman, Taslima is not only in the matchmaking business. Taslima Marriage Media also plans weddings, does wedding makeup and wedding videos - acting as a complete marriage solution.
Taslima has created employment for around 30 people in her company. At present, she is working on an app that will be launched in less than two months.
"I can see that this is a big market and no matter what happens, people will always get married. That is why I am planning on building a bigger platform," Taslima said.