Every parent wants what is best for their children, especially when it comes to happiness and love. However, when culture and traditional clash with modern values, things can get a little complicated. I gained some very interesting insight on these issues when I viewed the film Meet the Patels, co-directed by Ravi and his sister, Geeta Patel. Cinematography was also by Geeta Patel. The film is a funny, clever, in-your-face romantic, yet also sad comedy starring Ravi Patel and his family. Ravi is a 29 year-old first generation Indian-American man who becomes stuck between his modern generation views, and his family’s more traditional and cultural ways of thinking.
Having already debuted at the Los Angeles Film Festival, Meet the Patels started out as a family vacation video by Geeta. However, it soon spiraled into a full-fledged documentary about Ravi’s internal versus cultural struggles as his traditional, conservative parents attempt to set him up in an arranged marriage through bio-dating (a resume ritual of matchmaking).
Ravi has other internal issues about his two-year relationship with Audrey, an American Caucasian redhead, which ended because he could never tell his parents about her. Throughout the film, Ravi is constantly thinking of her, though he travels throughout the US to meet a potential wife. Plus, it isn’t always easy being a “Patel.” Being a Patel comes with a certain pride and expectations, including the assumption that Patels will marry other Patels (throughout the US and different states of India).
During the film, Ravi, as well as Geeta, experienced several different revelations about themselves and their family traditions. Though Ravi is always on camera, I wish Geeta had more of her own screen time. I felt her story was equally dynamic and interesting and could have been shown more. Also, the film shows in depth how Ravi’s parents feel during Ravi’s matchmaking excursion. I liked how each central character in the film was able to constantly express the feelings and thoughts that were running through their heads.
I also connected on a personal note with Meet the Patels due to my own dating experiences with first-generation Indian men. I found it fascinating to see the points of views from both sides.
Below is my interview with Ravi and Geeta (J= Jennifer, R = Ravi, G = Geeta):
J: How did you both become inspired to make this specific kind of documentary? Was it after you took the family trip to India? How did you both feel making this kind of different film?
G: We wanted to make a documentary that our family and friends would watch, and most of them do not prefer documentaries in general…so we thought the humor and tonal choices would be perfect. We decided to make the film after the trip to India, however, we had wanted to address this subject for a long time.
R: We just never thought it would be a personal documentary! We loved making this different kind of film. We knew it would help distribution, and it would be fun to do. For that, we thank our producer Janet Eckholm, all the funders, and executive producers.
J: As mentioned before, I have dated first generation Indian men, with none ending in marriage. All of them I had connected with and said they liked me for ME, though I was not an Indian woman. Ravi, do you personally feel that a relationship or marriage can work between an Indian and an American? Do you feel that is based more on culture and tradition? Or, in my case and in your past experience with the relationship you had with Audrey, that it depends on the individuals themselves?
R: Given that this question was the heart of this film, I can tell you with complete and documented awareness, that, I believe it is all about the individuals. It is about sharing common values. Sometimes, people can mistake religion or culture for values. That is what I did. I think the right person will want to take part in whatever matters to you.
J: In the beginning, why did you feel that you could not tell your parents about your relationship with Audrey? Was it perhaps because of family culture and tradition? Or, do you believe it was more because of your parents' personal views?
R: I think looking back, that I couldn’t tell mom and dad because I had not taken the time to process what I was looking for, or what I wanted, and I needed to separate all the voices in my head. It was either make this documentary or go into therapy! I think we all grow up with our parents’ view tangled up with our own, and growing up is about separating those voices.
J: In the film, you mention that you have gone on over 100 matched dates, but felt no connection with any of them. Did you ever consider not bio-dating? Do you prefer that route to meet a suitable match? Does biodating feel as much as a job for you as it did for Ravi?
GP: I had such a hard time with the biodating when I first started. Now, I have less resistance and see it as my choice. Before, I felt I didn’t have a choice and I didn’t go through the process of understanding my own voice in it all, just as Ravi did in the film.
J: Ravi, have you ever gotten to see your own personal bio-data resume? Geeta, have you ever seen yours as well?
R: We have both seen our biodatas. It was initially so strange to us, while at the same time, it is not too far from internet dating these days!
J: How do you both feel about being members of the well-known "Patel" family circle? Do you ever feel that the name is too stereotyped? Do you feel that the person needs to be a "Patel" to truly understand or appreciate being a Patel?
G: We love being Patel’s! Who wouldn’t want motel discounts across the country? At the same time, we love learning about other cultures. Again, we have learned that values are not the same thing as culture. For this reason, we don’t need to marry Patels, and in fact, we find it wonderful when people of different cultures come together.
J: This question is for both of you: What do you each feel that you have personally learned while making this documentary and what experiences have you encountered?
G: As mentioned previously, we have learned that for us, sharing values is important, but sharing cultural backgrounds is not.
R: I have learned that being an actor is not the toughest career out there - it's documentary filmmaking. We spent six years making this film! Other than that, I think we both, in getting to see our entire family as characters in a movie, got a chance to be truly grateful for how lucky we are to be have such a wonderful family.
J: Do you both feel that your views and appreciation for your family's culture/tradition have changed or deepened since the making of your film?
G: Our love and appreciation for our parents has grown immensely. We understand how hard it must have been – and still would be—to see their culture and tradition fade. We see how much they love us, and how much they are willing to compromise, so that we could be happy. We also see how brave and strong they are to try to understand us, and help us achieve our dreams and find love. We are really lucky. We want to be there for our parents, too. This film changed our lives.
P: They know us better now too. In the end, we all have a much deeper relationship because we are all much more honest with each other. While we often disagree about things, we are mostly respectful of letting everyone be themselves. Everyone in the family is pretty loud and opinionated, so it's also good when we don't talk at all.
For more information on the film, please visit the Meet the Patels website. For information on seeing the film in theaters, visit your local movie theaters.
Meet the Patels
USA, 88 min.
Directed by Geeta V. Patel, Ravi V. Patel
Program: Love, Factually (World Premiere)
Photos: Geeta Patel