Director: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel
Cast: Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel, Champa V. Patel
Watch Meet the Patels online in the UK: We Are Colony
Ravi Patel is looking for love. The problem? He’s Indian-American, which means his whole family is looking too. A film examining the cultural conventions and pressures of arranged marriages, family-approved dating and ethnicity? Meet the Patels might not look like the most novel romantic comedy – but appearances can be deceptive.
First off, it’s not a romantic comedy: it’s a documentary, which happens to have romance and comedy in it. That, in itself, might sound like a gimmick, given the proliferation of non-fiction films about the person behind the camera, from Super Size Me to most of Michael Moore’s work. But that also gives Geeta and Ravi Patel’s story the ring of truth to it – when we meet their family, full of oddballs and eccentrics, not one minute feels contrived, forced or invented.
If anything, that means that the supporting ensemble of characters we meet are more interesting than Ravi, the everyman actor who is getting over his red-head ex, Audrey (Audrey Alison Wauchope), but was always too afraid to tell his parents he was dating a white girl. When we meet his parents, you can immediately see why, as they push him towards finding another Indian-American to date. Agreeing to follow their guidance, his journey is the driving force of the film’s narrative, as he moves from dating websites to international conferences to find The One.
What follows is full of fascinating trivia, from the tendency for Patels to get hitched to other Patels to the “biodatas” that families pass between them, detailing career prospects, height, skin colour and more. Ravi dissects it all with a hilarious mix of sarcasm and sympathy – his preferred skin ton is “wheatish brown”, he jokes – unafraid to send himself up as much as everyone else. The absurdity of it all is emphasised with a playful use of animations to splice together the events and conversations.
That bizarre mix of fact, illustrations and humour makes for an unpredictable, haphazard experience; Geeta’s cinematography, we’re told early on, isn’t very good, so half of the images are blurred and shaky. But all that only adds to the shambling, unpolished sheen – this, unlike many other stunt-docs, doesn’t wrap things up neatly or have an artificial end goal for our protagonist to reach (let’s just say the final scene isn’t him getting married). What Meet the Patels does have in spades, though, is sincerity. Less like Super Size Me and more like Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, this documentary winds up being a charmingly honest tribute to family and love. As Ravi puts it at one point, being a Patel almost makes you a member of the “biggest family in the world”. The idea of them all hunting for a suitable partner in similarly confused ways is as amusing as it is endearing – after all, if it worked for Ravi’s mum and dad, who remain happy to this day, why not for him? The result is a hilarious romantic comedy, but with one key difference: it’s real. Wonderfully winning stuff.
Meet the Patels is available to watch online on We Are Colony, along with an exclusive bunch of special features.