I was encouraged by a friend to see Meet the Patels (2015) in support of Ravi, her college friend who is the director, writer, and subject of this romantic documentary. The film follows Ravi’s quest to find a wife the old-fashioned Indian way – through his parents. With his sister Geeta behind the camera, Ravi takes us to his family reunion in India, his numerous dates across the country, and into some tense moments with his parents. What results is an in-depth look at Indian culture and its clash with American ideas on marriage.
What is great about the movie is that it explores not only the general struggle adult children face in their parents’ wish for marriage and grandchildren, but also the specific way Indian families deal with finding suitable mates and the challenges unique to men in this situation. The 30-something unmarried woman who just wants to put on that white dress and start popping out children is an aging trope, but rarely is it looked at from a male perspective. It’s wonderful that we get to see the toll this process has on Ravi’s emotions and I admire that he didn’t portray himself as some sort of player forced to give up his lifestyle for a tedious marriage. He wants to find “the one” as much as his parents want him to and, in effect, we want him to.
I was a little conflicted about some of the audience’s reactions to the movie. There are plenty of comedic moments, but there were some where I feared the audience was laughing at the Patels and not with them. In one instance, we see Ravi’s father expound on the Patels from various areas in India and from which of them were preferable for Ravi to find a wife. While most around me laughed uproariously, I was struck by how real and significant this sort of discrimination can be. It didn’t seem quaint or silly – as a biracial woman who has felt a distinct cultural push to date a specific type of man, to me it was heartbreaking.
While Meet the Patels may not offer much in terms of solving Indian-American children’s challenges when it comes to relationships, I don’t think that’s its point. It gives us the opportunity to understand the culture a little bit better and, really, the people a little bit better. That’s an admirable quality for a film that is ultimately about one man’s search for love. It’s absolutely worth seeing.