“If you wanted to get married you’d be married”
The title Meet the Patels seemed strange for a movie about an almost-thirty year old Indian-American (Ravi Patel) allowing his parents to commence the process of an arranged marriage for him over the course of a year. I knew we’d obviously meet his family since Dad (Vasant K. Patel) and Mom (Champa V. Patel) were playing matchmaker, but it seemed weird since everyone he’d date would have a different name. Well, as Ravi explains very early on, the first “by-law” of Patel nuptials is finding another Patel to marry. There’s a reason the last name is like Smith in India and it’s because those from one region seek those from others—to keep the risk of incest low, of course. So Ravi is in fact meeting Patels right alongside us.
Ravi and sister Geeta Patel (who co-directs and works the camera) are therefore providing a history of Indian and family culture as much as they’re documenting the awkward process of finding him a wife. Their partnership is crucial beyond behind-the-scenes work and familiarity in front of the camera as interviewer and interviewee too because Geeta is also unmarried and has been going on “biodata” dates organized by their parents for years now. To Vasant and Champa the two are failures to a certain degree because they haven’t followed in the ethnic tradition of expanding the family’s numbers. It’s no coincidence that a trip to India finds everyone inquiring about “save-the-dates”. They are black sheep, charity cases almost, and the time has arrived to rectify the situation.
We don’t see Geeta until the end credits for a fantastic table-turning gag, but we hear her insight enough to realize how integral she is to Ravi’s story as confidant and compatriot. Her experiences mirror his and the two work through their psyches throughout the duration to really understand what it is they want out of love. Her lengthy attempt to follow her parents’ footsteps probably played a role in his getting on the train after a two-year romance with Audrey Wauchope that he hid from Vasant and Champa even as this film’s production began. Ravi could no longer live a double life of American versus Indian, but instead of telling the truth and moving forward, he broke up with Audrey instead to pursue a Hindu Patel.
That sounds devastating and it is. The documentary will have you empathizing with Ravi’s pain in this impossible choice to forgo happiness in order to find a different brand. And while that sounds like the opposite of “feel good”, don’t fret. Meet the Patels is actually one of the funniest and most honest films I’ve seen in quite some time because of how everyone deals with their heartbreak. It helps that Ravi is an accomplished comedic actor with Vasant and Champa relentlessly showing where he got his humor from, but the situation itself is hysterical enough. How can we not laugh at this gung-ho dude out of his element going on blind dates, attending weddings for potential suitors, and even going to a Patel convention for added exposure?
Add a slew of family and friends—including Russell Peters briefly—talking about their own experiences as Indian, married, arranged, or inside a bi-religious union and the end result is an informatively resonate depiction of love in the twenty-first century. It could be that I’ve seen the process from afar with my friend’s cousin deciding to go this route of contemporary arrangement where dating is allowed, but I found so much of what’s depicted to be universal. Because even though Ravi’s quest is to fulfill an innate desire to have what his parents have in a traditional Indian sense, beneath that specific hope is the general one of reconciling past, present, and future no matter what those periods are steeped in for you personally.
We’ve all been in relationships that didn’t work for whatever reason. We’ve all lied about them to someone only to feel the wrath of truth when it was revealed. We have seen our parents change their minds about their own aspirations so that they can align with our happiness beyond their own. And we’ve angered them to the point of receiving the silent treatment as though there might be no coming back. Whereas we experience these things behind closed doors, however, Ravi—and to a point Geeta—air it for the world to see. Some moments they didn’t want documented at the time are shown too (Ravi vehemently telling Geeta to turn the camera off towards the end and her deciding to only pretend to do so).
Despite the laughter and good-natured humor involved to mock each other and turn hardship into comedy, this tale is extremely intimate and at times difficult to watch without feeling wrong having been exposed to such deep-rooted emotions. But this is exactly why Ravi and Geeta work is so profoundly necessary. The premise lends itself perfectly to sitcom farce—learning someone optioned the content for just that goal would hardly be surprising—but allowing it to sit as real life makes a huge difference in as far as connecting on a human level. Whether in the grainy, out-of-focus footage of life or the crisp line drawing animations rendering matter-of-fact interviews alive, we see ourselves on-screen because this insane search for a spark is something we all endure for love.
Rating: PG | Runtime: 88 minutes | Release Date: September 11th, 2015 (USA)
Director(s): Geeta Patel & Ravi Patel
Writer(s): Matthew Hamachek, Billy McMillin, Geeta Patel & Ravi Patel