Review by Lori Buswold
Born in Illinois to immigrant parents, Ravi Patel is a typical first-generation American. Shaped by two cultures, he respects and loves the inherited traditions of the old country but has also been equally shaped by American culture. This dual nature is on display in an amusing documentary in which Ravi and sister Geeta, his mostly unseen co-director, track a particularly fraught moment in his family’s life. Ravi is 29, and his parents—cartoonish dad Vasant and anxious mom Champa—are beyond anxious about him meeting a nice Indian woman and getting married. They come from a culture of arranged marriages, and since that system’s already in place, why bother with the complicated American dating game?
Ravi and his parents come to a compromise that combines the old world arranged marriage system, and the new world dating system.
The film offers many amusing revelations about this world. Prospective brides and grooms exchange their “bio-data” online and filter through potential matches. Ravi’s parents would really like it if Ravi chose someone from the extended Patel universe—“Patel” is essentially the “Smith” of India. In one of the movie’s best sequences, Vasant patiently sits down with Ravi to explain how members of the vast family tree are spread out geographically. It would be good to meet a woman from this branch of the Patels. But over here? No, no, these are disreputable Patels. So the Los Angeles-based Ravi, who recently broke up with a redhead from Connecticut, reluctantly agrees to travel to India and make the dating rounds—where practically everyone asks him why he isn’t married yet.
There’s never a dull moment in Ravi’s adventure to find a bride. Being a first generation Mexican-American, not an Indian one, I was afraid at first that I would be too unfamiliar with Indian traditions or cultural subtleties to enjoy and completely understand the film. I couldn’t have been more wrong. “Meet the Patels” is such a human story, although it deals with many of the Indian old world customs surrounding marriage, I felt as though I was part of the family. Due to the filming style Geeta and Ravi use, audience members will get an “in the middle of it all” perspective.
The year we follow Ravi on his quest for a bride starts out as him trying to throw himself completely into his Indian culture. However, by the end of the movie, it’s very clear that the love of family and a parent’s desire to see their children happy, transcends all culture and traditions.