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LA Film Fest 2014: ‘Meet the Patels’ – Film Review

Meet the Patels is a funny and insightful film about the search for true love, but it’s not a romantic comedy. Rather, it’s a film about family and cultural traditions. It’s also a documentary, which makes the characters and situations that much more engaging, knowing that it’s a real story, about real people, not just a warped Hollywood depiction of clichés and stereotypes.

Ravi Patel is an American-born Indian man on the verge of turning 30, whose parents wish he would settle down already and marry a nice Indian girl. Unbeknownst to them, he’s been dating Audrey, a quirky, lovable girl who is perhaps the whitest person you will ever meet. When he and Audrey break up, though, Ravi starts to think that maybe marrying a nice Indian girl is really what he wants for himself, as well. So, after returning from a trip to India with his family, he finally acquiesces to their pressure and agrees to try it the way his parents and countless generations before them did: get an arranged marriage.

To many Americans, the term “arranged marriage” brings with it a lot of preconceived notions and stereotypical connotations, involving one family selling their daughter to another for money and land, or two households promising their children to one another at birth. They never meet or lay eyes on one another until they finally wed and hope they’ve at least been promised to someone hot. It’s often seen as a backwards and even oppressive way of doing things, but those preconceived notions have nothing to do with the actual process, the way it works today.

Followed by his documentarian sister Geeta and her ever-present camera, Ravi goes through the modern process of trying to find a suitable Indian wife, going on dates all over the country with women who first meet his parents’ approval, and then with his—and by whom he has been similarly vetted by them and their families.

The focus of this film isn’t on the dates, though, or on which of these lucky girls will eventually become “the one.” The focus is on the process, the culture, and, most importantly, on Ravi’s family.

If this were a typical Hollywood movie, Ravi’s family would probably be portrayed as overbearing and clueless, more concerned with preserving their cultural traditions than about Ravi’s happiness. There would be a tremendous gulf between Ravi and his parents, a cultural lack of understanding between the Indian-born parents and their American-raised children, that must be overcome by the end of the film. But, this isn’t a typical Hollywood movie. This is a true story, about real people. As such, Ravi’s family is pretty awesome.

Their interactions and relationships with one another are genuine. Ravi’s father is smart, quirky, funny, boisterous, and a bit of a joker. It’s clear that Ravi takes after him in a number of ways. His mother is renowned for being a great matchmaker—but can’t quite seem to get a handle on what Ravi wants in a mate. Still, she’s very excited about the potential matches she finds for her son and is convinced that each new girl could be the one, if Ravi would just give her a chance. His sister Geeta, unseen behind the camera, is still very much a character in the film. She’s Ravi’s friend and confidante, as well as being in the same boat as him, trying to go through the process of finding a suitable Indian spouse. Ravi has good, genuine, loving relationships with everyone in his family. They fight sometimes, sure, but they also joke with one another, act a bit silly sometimes, and, ultimately, love and care about each other.

This is a great and funny film that gives us a glimpse into a culture that most of us know nothing about. In doing so, though, it also reveals some human universals. You may not have an Indian background, and you may not be under pressure to get an arranged marriage . . . but in many ways, your family is probably just like the Patels.


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