Dating isn’t easy, and no one would agree with that statement more than Ravi Patel. In Meet the Patels, Ravi, a nearly 30-year old first generation Indian-American, agrees to let his parents help him find a wife through their traditional methods. Meet the Patels is a charming and engaging documentary, which follows the trials and tribulations of a man balancing his own wants against familial expectations.
The film picks up in the aftermath of Ravi’s break up with Audrey, his girlfriend of 2-years. Audrey’s whimsical personality, great sense of humour, and striking beauty make her the perfect woman for Ravi in every way except for one — she’s not Indian. Knowing that his parents wouldn’t approve of Audrey, Ravi kept their 2-year relationship a secret. To the best of his parent’s knowledge, Ravi hasn’t even dated. Distraught over his break up, due to take a family trip to India, and with mounting pressure from his parents to find a wife, Ravi makes a deal with his mother and father dictating that under their guidance, he has one-year to find a wife. As the aforementioned events unfold, Ravi’s sister Geeta (a documentary filmmaker), decides to chronicle it all, which provides the audience with a first-hand account of Ravi’s numerous attempts to find the one.
Meet the Patels is at its best when it focuses on the day-to-day incongruities that arise when “Americanized” Ravi must deal with his parent’s traditional approach to finding a wife. At one point, Ravi’s father pulls out a map, charting out specific regions in India that are ideal for finding his potential bride. Later on, Ravi’s parents create a biodata profile (think OKCupid for Indian families) that lists stats like height, career, and skin tone. Ravi’s parents even go so far as to send him off to a mate finding convention that is only for people named Patel. Throughout it all, Ravi has the exasperated demeanour one would expect from a man that made a deal with the devil. The film spends a great deal of time mining humour from the fish out of water scenarios that Ravi’s parents constantly place him in.
Ravi’s family refuses to budge on their traditional stances, and the audience sees the toll it takes on Ravi as he does his best to make his own values mesh with his families, while also not completely agreeing with them. The film doesn’t shy away from drawing attention to the racism and backwards thinking that is at the root of much of the matchmaking — there is an entire segment devoted to passing on women whose biodata lists their skin color as being too dark. Although Ravi doesn’t agree with such old school ways of thinking, he is unable to dismiss them in the face of his parents successful arranged marriage. The film is at its most compelling when it explores Ravi’s conflicted feelings about embracing his family’s way of thinking.
Each member of the Patel family has an engaging onscreen presence, with Ravi’s parents often stealing scenes as an unheralded comedy duo. Ravi’s father Vasant (the more charismatic of the two) is a natural storyteller who never shies away from the camera, while his mother Champa, (the more laid back of the two), often interjects with witty one liners. Although Ravi’s sister Geeta spends the film off-screen, you can always feel her presence behind the camera. Geeta constantly sends zingers Ravi’s way, keeping him in check with the spirited aplomb that comes naturally to all older siblings. As well as the Patels work as a unit, it’s ultimately Ravi’s affability that carries the film. Ravi wins the viewer over right from the film’s opening animated segment where he explains that he has a smaller than normal head. While watching Ravi navigate through his Indian culture is the central premise of the film, his troubles are relatable to people from all walks of life. Disappointing one’s parents and striving to find love is something that people in all cultures goes through, and Meet the Patels does an excellent job of not letting the cultural divide prevent the audience from relating to Ravi’s plight.
Meet the Patels is an easy movie to watch. The film’s main flaw is that it plays out too predictably, hitting all the same beats as a romantic comedy. The movie fits the rom-com template so well it is difficult to ignore how calculated and plotted out Meet the Patels feels. It doesn’t help that the central character, Ravi, is an actor, able to sell the viewers on whichever maudlin antics the film needs him to express in order to make a scene feel dramatic. In the reality show era, people are more interested in a fascinating story than a true story, and Meet the Patels conscientiously straddles the line between both.
Even though Ravi’s struggle is that of a man caught between two cultures, Meet the Patels tells a story that is familiar and relatable to anyone that has ever lived with the pressure of meeting familial expectations. The film feels more like a 90-minute episode of a reality show than a documentary, is acutely predictable, and amateurishly shot (self-admittedly), yet the movie manages to remain consistently engaging. In the end, Meet the Patels is a documentary/romantic comedy hybrid that will entertain as well as spark discussion.