Meet the Patels takes a hilarious look inside one family as the parents try to achieve their dream: getting their kids married.
The documentary starts humbly enough, with filmmaker Geeta Patel testing out a new camera during her family’s annual trip to India. Her younger brother, actor Ravi, is recovering from a breakup with a white woman he’d never told his parents about.
With his thirtieth birthday on the horizon, Ravi decides that maybe all of his relatives are on to something: it’s time for him to get hitched. He agrees to let his parents find his dates for him, drawing him into the vast web of Indian-American matchmaking services.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced said matchmaking, Meet the Patels is an eye-opener. The scale of Indian-American matrimonial infrastructure is immense. Beyond his own family’s network of relatives and acquaintances, Ravi finds his dates though a variety of specially targeted dating sites. His ultimate destination is a national convention just for single people named Patel.
As Ravi crisscrosses the country looking for his ideal woman — she must live in America, and she must like him — it forces both him and Geeta (who is also single) to examine their assumptions about marriage. Are their imagined versions of their future spouses the only possible versions, or should they be looking elsewhere? How do they reconcile their internal cultural conflicts as first-generation Indian-Americans?
Their parents — dad Vasant and mom Champa — face their own sort of reckoning. Why aren’t their kids married yet, when everyone else’s children are married and having kids of their own? They love their unconventional kids, but Champa feels as though she and Vasant must have erred in raising them, otherwise she’d be a grandmother already.
The hook to Meet the Patels is the loving relationship that the family shares. All four of them are funny and opinionated. Ravi and Geeta like each other well enough to live together. The Patels are an endearing bunch, struggling through the ubiquitous contemporary American problem of young people putting off the traditional markers of adulthood for as long as possible.
Watching the film, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the Patels and my own family. Like Geeta, I’m the elder sister to one younger brother, who is as much a best friend as he is a sibling. We were raised by parents as devoted to one another as they were to us.
Yet I recognized the piercing familiar tone of maternal guilt when Champa complains to Geeta about Geeta’s unmarried state: “I hope you never go through what we are going through.”
Champa sounds exactly like my mom, who — upon my speculation that I might never marry — asked, “So you’re just going to live in sin, eh?” I did get married, to my mother’s relief, but my husband and I decided not to have kids. This then prompted my mother to declare in front of all the relatives at my cousin’s baby shower that she was okay with this because, “Kathy would be a bad mother.” (To be fair, she was probably right!)
Apparently, Gujarati parental guilt and Catholic parental guilt are two sides of the same coin.
Few documentaries are as funny and accessible as Meet the Patels. It’s a real treat to get an honest look inside an adorable American family. This is a must watch.