Meet the Patels follows the Patel family during their quest to find their son, Ravi, a wife.
Recently out of a serious (and secret) relationship kept under the parental radar, he finds himself once again in the dating world. However, things are different for Ravi now. Nearing the end of his twenties, Ravi is feeling the pressure to marry an Indian girl (a Patel, to be specific). So, Ravi does what any young person would do in this situation – he enlists the help of his mom and dad to arrange his marriage, and he gets his loving sister Geeta to film it!
We had the chance to sit down with the brother-sister duo to talk about arranged marriages, their parents, and what it was like to work on this project as a family.
This film is extremely relatable – I think many young South Asians at some point in their lives have had a relationship that they kept a secret from their parents, or marry someone they know will fit easily into their lives even if they are not in love. This story has been told so many times, and it never gets old, or loses its relevance. Why do you think that is?
Gita: Everyone has to find their voice, and it’s never easy when your family has opinions! So I think it’s a universal story that never gets old.
Ravi: Exactly. I mean, we all have mothers, right?
When making documentaries, you don’t necessarily know how the film will end, or what will happen along the way. How did the process of the film go compared to how you thought it would?
Gita: The process of making this film was long, because we literally filmed everything!
Ravi: Yeah, we let the story tell itself, but we worked hard in editing to sew it all together as a romantic comedy, so we added all the fun stuff like animation, couples interviews, and cool music!
One great thing about this movie is that it provides a new perspective on arranged marriages – a practice so quickly deemed outdated and archaic by the rest of the world. Meet the Patels shows arranged marriages are not all “bad” by nature, and that they can come from good intentions. Was providing an alternative representation of arranged marriages something that was planned and something that you were conscious of during the making of this film?
Gita: Yes, it was absolutely planned! We felt like arranged marriages and Indian parents were depicted as caricatures in so much media. It was something to laugh about or be threatened by. This was not our experience, nor was it the experience of any of our friends. We wanted people to see how much respect and admiration we had for our parents and the process that led to their love. They are one of the happiest couples we know!
Ravi: Also, we see so much romance in arranged marriages and semi-arranged marriages. Our cousins who are our age and were born in the states, found Patel spouses, and they have amazing marriages.
Gita: And you know what, America has the highest divorce rate in history. The idea of marriage is in crisis. More and more people are single… so why not rethink the first-world process and take some tips from successful marriages from all backgrounds?
Ravi: I think in the Indian system, the emphasis is on compatibility. In the American system, it’s more about chemistry these days. I learned so much from my parents about what really matters and what makes “love” really last.
You both talk about the differences in your experiences going into arranged dates. We get to hear a little about your own struggle with these dates, including the pressure that you feel to find a husband, get married, and start a family. How do you think your experiences have compared to Ravi’s?
Gita: I went through a more intense version of what Ravi did. The other difference is that while Ravi could laugh about it, I was totally confused and scared I was going to make the wrong decision.
Ravi: Ok so we both had commitment problems.
Gita: Haha, yeah, I guess so! I can’t speak for all women, but I personally was more concerned with pleasing my parents and also carrying on the Indian tradition. I wasn’t a rebel, like Ravi. Also, being the first born in America, I felt really alone in how I felt– as if I was the only person I knew going through this struggle. Part of the reason I was interested in making this film was because I wanted to make something for anyone else who was going through this. I feel like it’s really hard to explain ordinarily.
Ravi: Yes, that’s what so many people tell us– That this film enters the arena of something so many of them are going through but is really hard to explain.
Films centered around Indian families often place parents into tropes – they’re super traditional and super strict, and have thick accents that make everything sound funny. You haven’t done that with your parents – their portrayals are well-rounded. We get to hear their thoughts, and where they are coming from. They are traditional enough that they want you both to have an arranged marriage, but they are also quite open-minded and express that in the end, they just want you to be happy. Did the two of you struggle at all with how your parents would be portrayed, or did things just fall into place naturally?
Ravi: Our number one goal in the story was that people come out of this film supporting Mom and Dad’s point of view. So yes, we were obsessed with making sure the story helped people see our parents through our eyes.
Gita: We wanted people to really understand our parents, and understand the value of the way they think, and the system of matchmaking that brought them together… this is what drives the conflict in our real life story, and so it was important that we told the story with all the nuances that reflected the reality.
Ravi: This is why editing took so long. I mean, it took 6 years to make this film!
This film seems to be like a big, fun (mostly!) family project. What was it like making a film with your family? Any funny/silly/memorable moments that you would like to share?
Gita: It was fun, but Ravi was a pain to work with.
Ravi: Oh please. I should get an award just because I survived working with you.
What’s one piece of advice that you two would give to people watching this movie who are in a similar situation as the one you experienced, Ravi?
Gita: If you feel someone you love doesn’t understand who you are and you’ve tried to explain it to them, try again, and again. Be as honest as you can and give it time.
Ravi: And don’t let your sister film you doing it!