Meet the Patels: Movie Review

by Ruchi Jain

Meet The Patels is the ultimate documentary highlighting the modern Indian American experience, replete with precious quips from Mom and Dad Patel, witty replies from their Americanized adult(ish) children, and boatloads of emotional blackmail.

Filmed over two years, Meet The Patels follows Ravi Patel, a successful Indian American Hollywood actor, on his quest to find the perfect bride with excessive assistance from his parents, Champa and Vasant. Having recently separated from his Caucasian girlfriend of two years – that his parents didn’t know existed – Ravi acquiesces to their goading for an arranged marriage, traveling all over North America to go on dates with strangers vouched for by the most distant family members. What follows is a hilarious mix of awkward first dates, phone conversations, conventions for unmarried Patels, and big fat Indian weddings to top it all off.

The documentary picks apart everything from Gujarati stereotypes, “wheat-ish” complexions, and other sordid factors that go into evaluating the potential bride or groom (it slyly ignores the topic of the Hindu caste hierarchy, which appears in the bachelor’s “biodata”). The scene where Ravi rejects another one of his mom’s suggested female suitors because the girl is allegedly “fat” strikes a nerve. The sad truth behind the arranged marriage is only slightly alluded to: even the most intelligent and successful woman is rejected if the Patels find her unattractive; looks are more important when considering a bride.

The best moments are all owed to Champa and Vasant, however, as they constantly challenge Ravi and his sister, Geeta, who is safely tucked behind the camera, filming all the chaos in Ravi’s life. The nagging and diatribes eventually lead to some really poignant moments (“Put that camera down right now!” Ravi yells at Geeta.) Still, despite disappointments and upsets, nothing can break this family apart. The movie took seven years to make it to theaters and (SPOILER) Ravi is still not listed as married though he is well past the ripe old age of 30, which according to the Patels is when the alarms start going off.

Naturally, critics nationwide are fawning over the film, reminding us that post-9/11 America loves South Asians when they’re funny, smart, self-deprecating, middle-class, and best of all: harmless. I, myself, laughed and cringed at all the realistic moments, remembering similar fights with my parents as well as the inside jokes that we share. At the end of it all, as an Indian American female, I have to say that Ravi and Geeta appear very fortunate as they bond with their parents, talk things through while caring for each other’s happiness. A film where the Patels ultimately disown their offspring for challenging their parents – which is a thing that happens in a lot of cases – would not fare as well. 



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