A review of Ravi Patel's documentary about his search for love in an arrangement marriage enviorment
MEET THE PATELS
Director: Geeta V. Patel, Ravi V. Patel
Starring: Geeta V. Patel, Ravi V. Patel, Champa V. Patel, Vasant K. Patel
Run time: Approximately 1.5 hours
I should start by saying from the outset that I’m a sucker for a good documentary. It must be something that happens to us when we get older: you start liking talk radio, you stop going to clubs and start going to lounges, you start complaining about loud music, and you start liking documentaries. Having said that, let me say that “Meet the Patels” delivers as well as a documentary can. It is charming, sincerely funny without trying too hard, and there are enough moments of thoughtful reflection as well as emotion to make it relatable and realistic. In short, take the family and go see the movie. You’ll be glad you did.
Without giving away any spoilers, “Meet the Patels” is a documentary that follows Ravi Patel (who is an actor in Hollywood) on his search for a marriage partner. He is accompanied on this search by his sister, Geeta, and parents, Champa and Vasant. The film takes the audience on a journey of how the “biodata” system operates, and gives an all too realistic glimpse inside the inner workings of how Indian immigrant parents and their first generation children view dating, love, marriage, and family.
The film is funny…very funny. The humor comes not only from the dialogue, but also from the all too familiar situations and interactions to which South Asian audiences will be able to uncomfortably, yet instantly, relate.
Additionally, the choice to intersperse animation as a visual narrative tool was an invaluable decision. In fact, the animation along with the editing help make the film very watchable and seamless. I liken it to another wildly successful documentary, “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead.” Kudos to the editing team, and the animation studio for a job well done!
The Not So Good
It would be easy to take shots at the film for its less than stellar camerawork and cropped / chopped framing, but I won’t. I found that it added to the charm of the film, and made the documentary experience feel more like you were watching home movies with your friends and family. Also, knowing that Geeta was behind the camera filming and interacting with her family at the same time made the film more of a “first-person” experience. Given that it was Geeta’s first time behind the camera, I think she did a great job.
In my opinion, the documentary could have been improved in the following areas:
• It would have been nice to have included more on screen conversation and reaction from Ravi’s “dates,” as well as his ex-girlfriend to give the other side of the journey and provide more than a glimpse of the female perspective on the process. Geeta brings some of this, but as she’s the set of eyes through which we see this story, additional female voices on their dating experience would have added value.
• It would also have been nice, in scenes where Ravi was interacting with multiple groups of friends, to include their names, ages, and dating status as a visual for context and introduction purposes. It would have been even better if the film gave the members of those groups more of a chance to chime in on their experiences in a longer form. Too often there are individuals in the group that don’t say a word, but look as though they have something to say. I think these changes would have provided greater context for the friends’ opinions, as well as other voices, besides Ravi’s, to help comment on a situation that is going to universally foster differing opinions and discussions. You will, however, certainly notice a sizeable appearance in the documentary by Sunkrish Bala, as well as a brief yet silent appearance by Pej Vahdat.
• It would have been great to see more of Champa, especially towards the end where she makes a very important transition on her opinion of the type of woman Ravi should / could be with. That transition is made almost entirely off camera without showing some very difficult conversations that certainly would have drawn in the audience. Champa, to me, was the heart of the film. She represented the challenges, conflict, drama, and emotional back and forth that many families encounter in these types of situations. And she did it all with dignity and class, as did all the Patel family members.
One thing that you’ll surely feel as the film concludes is a great deal of respect and admiration for Champa and Vasant Patel. They are intelligent, caring, loving, funny, yet wonderful in the way they openly communicate with, support, and embrace their children. Even when the parents do not agree with Ravi, and even when old world conservative values conflict with new world liberalism, the parents remain lovable and endearing.
Ravi is a very relatable funny communicative individual as well. It’s easy to connect with Ravi and follow his journey in a self-identifying way. (Or perhaps that’s just me because I too grew up in Chicago, am a huge Bears fan, have had a Tom Waddle Bears jersey since the mid 90’s and am as socially awkward as Ravi). But let’s pretend it’s not just me.
Geeta, while invisible for much of the film, is a great window through which to experience the family. There’s also a moment where Geeta is talking off camera towards the end that may be the most profound moment of the film. I won’t spoil it for you by sharing the content of that dialogue, but you’ll know it when you see it.
I rate the film an 8.5 out of 10. If you like documentaries and romantic comedies, this film is for you. For more information on where you can see “Meet the Patels,” visit meetthepatelsfilm.com.
Whether you agree, disagree, feel free to comment on this review with your feedback. As always, I enjoy hearing what you all think, even if you think I’m wrong! You can also reach me at email@example.com