This documentary co-directed, co-produced, and starring Ravi Patel provides an interesting and comedic look into a side of America few get to see, or even know exists. While most are probably familiar with the Indian tradition of arranged marriages and match-making, those outside the culture are not aware of how the practice functions for modern children of immigrants living in the US. Meet the Patels is a light-hearted personal journey through this process and a glimpse of the pressures and complications of being raised in two different cultures.
Ravi is a working actor who, much to the dismay of his parents and relatives, is not married at the ripe old age of twenty-nine. His also unmarried sister, Geeta, is a documentary filmmaker who seems to shoot every facet of their lives, including the family’s annual trip back to India. Having recently broken up with his girlfriend of two years, Audrey, Ravi eventually gives in to the pleas of his family to help him find a wife. Aside from his sister, none of the Patels know that Audrey exists; Ravi kept her secret because she is white.
His parents are charming and funny, which is one of the keys to understanding why Ravi is persuaded that arrangement might be the way to go. They seem to be happy and in love, with a marriage that has lasted over three decades, all while having a courtship only consisting of a ten-minute conversation. You can see the appeal of having a posse of relatives weeding out prospective partners; modern dating has already become a process of seemingly endless online searches, match-making websites, and general internet stalking (thanks Facebook). The current Indian-American system, although many consider it archaic, is actually fairly similar to what singles do already. Profiles called Biodata (like a cross between a resume and a Match.com profile) are created and passed around to relatives and other Patels, who in turn send back potential matches. Mom and Dad pick out the best ones, and Ravi decides if he wants to meet them.
The mix of home movie footage and cute black and white animation doesn’t distract from the film or make it feel amateurish; rather, it brings you closer to the family and more immersed in the situation. However, Ravi holds back details and emotions that would have made for a deeper movie-going experience, and the interesting excursions into Indian match-making are ways to avoid the lingering feelings for his ex-girlfriend, fear of intimacy, and owning up to his parents.
The younger Patels do not try and explain or excuse an ancient practice that many have deemed oppressive; their aim is to merely present one man’s year-long experience/experiment in trying to find a wife. Ravi and his sister seem genuinely torn between two worlds which they love and respect equally. The undercurrent of the film is the immigrant’s struggle to hold on to their cultural heritage and identity while assimilating into another country. The movie also speaks to the desire for any person to find out who they are outside of their family, and figure out what they really want.