'Meet the Patels' Documentary Follows Ravi Patel's Quest To Find Love
While the holidays are a joyous time for many people, sometimes getting together with your family means dealing with well-meaning, though often intrusive questions or “advice” to you about your personal life. This is especially true if your family really wants you to get married.
Actor Ravi Patel, who you may have seen in the TV shows “Master of None” or “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” found himself in that situation, though not just around the holidays. Amidst lots of family pressure, he decided to try the kinds of methods that worked for his parents a generation ago back in India. His sister, Geeta Patel, documented the entire process in a film called “Meet the Patels” which recently aired on PBS’s "Independent Lens."
Ravi had never actually told his parents about his white girlfriend who he had dated for two years, largely because his parents really wanted him to marry an Indian girl, and specifically one with the last name Patel. To clarify, not all Patels are related. Having that name just means your family is from a certain part of India.
So Ravi had a conversation with his dad who told him, “‘We have a way of finding these Patel girls. And you go on these dates, and, you know, we’ll try not to be too involved,’ which by the way was a complete lie,” said Ravi Patel.
In the film, he elaborated, “I guess I had this realization that whenever in my head I imagined who it was that I was going to marry, it was this Indian girl. Yet here I was almost 30, and I hadn’t found one yet. And I started doing the math. I mean, when we were in India I was like, looking around, there’s Indians everywhere. Those guys have it easy. But I live in America, and here I am looking for an Indian girl who’s Gujarati, and Patel more specifically …”
“And single!” his sister Geeta chimed in.
“And female, by the way. And all these other normal things that people look for — cute, smart, funny … She has to love me. I have to love her. We have to find each other. I mean, there’s a lot of odds stacked against me … and then here dad was saying, ‘Trust me. This is gonna work.’”
The whole time, Ravi’s sister, Geeta, documented this. She went on dates with him, and asked him tough questions about his feelings. Geeta had been through this same process before.
“It was something that had just completely been traumatic for me,” said Geeta Patel. “I think growing up, it wasn’t like I was absolutely like, ‘No — I don’t want to do this.’ I was torn, and it was hard to explain why I was torn to any of my American friends. Because to them it was very black and white … There is a very strong sense of family in this process, but also I think the funny thing is, there’s a great deal of romance in it.”
Geeta also said that while this pressure to marry isn’t culturally specific, it manifests itself in more extreme ways in Indian culture.
“The reason this film has spoken to so many people across the country is we have a lot of conservative families out there. We have a lot of people who have grown up with this idea from watching the movies that finding love and being married means that’s the end of your story. That is your happy ending — especially women,” said Geeta Patel.
“Why is it in stories of men particularly, their stories can end with starting a big company, or winning a war, or doing something with their lives, and along the way they fall in love? But with women, we have more stories about women ending their lives and success by finding love. And it’s not that that’s the truth, it’s that that’s the truth we have created.”
The process of documenting Ravi’s experiences was cathartic for Geeta, and the process for Ravi was involved. There’s not just one method of setting someone up. Your parents could introduce you to someone they know, or the daughter of a friend, or a friend of a friend, or a relative, but there is more to it than that.
“I think it’s important for the audience to understand, who hasn’t seen the movie, to know that one of the premises of this film is my incompetence in dating and meeting women…it’s apparently hilarious,” said Ravi Patel. “Then I’m going to wedding season, and my parents are coaching me from the sidelines how to pick up chicks, and then it all kind of culminated at me being at this thing called the Patel Convention.”
The Patel Convention is where a whole bunch of Patels get together and meet. They have activities and do icebreakers, and the goal is for people to match up. There is another system called biodata, where your family essentially makes a resume showcasing you that they can exchange with other Patels. And then there’s wedding season. This is the time of year that many people get married, and throughout the movie you see the Patel family attending many weddings.
At one point, Ravi’s parents decided they wanted to set him up with a girl who was at a wedding they were at, and they pulled him aside to talk to him about it. They almost sounded like giddy teenagers, concocting a scheme for their friend. Frustrated, Ravi had to jump in.
“I don’t want you guys jumping and getting all these other people involved. That’s when it becomes embarrassing,” said Ravi.
“We are not going to do anything you don’t want us to do. OK? It’s given,” said Ravi’s father. “Don’t be shy — talk to her, man!” he said as he coaxed his son into flirting.
“This is the most unnecessary pep speech I’ve ever gotten in my life,” Ravi finally said, as he ended the conversation.
You see these kinds of interactions which are often funny, but also poignant and sometimes difficult, between members of the Patel family throughout the film.
Just as interesting as watching Ravi crisscross North America to go on dates with Patel girls, is watching the family grow together throughout the process.