Popcorn and Inspiration: ‘Meet the Patels’: A Traditional Quest to Find an Indian Wife (in America)

Alanis Morrisette was thanking India for its Patels, because there’s an insane amount of them, and they’re all very nice.
Mark Jackson
April 27, | 1h 28min

Is the dating scene in America so different from that of India? Indian and American cultures couldn’t be more dissimilar; theirs is roughly 11,000 years old—ours is 245 years young. The very heartwarming (an LA Film Festival win in the Audience Award category for Best Feature Documentary) “Meet the Patels” explores the often sidesplittingly funny differences.

Here’s a cultural-difference example: When Bollywood finds a Hollywood script with Indian crossover potential, there are still many rewrites that have to take place before Indians are able to understand what’s going on. Take, for example, a Western like “High Plains Drifter.” There’s no such thing as a high plains drifter in India. Clint Eastwood riding through the desert all by himself ... What is that? Indians can’t culturally contextualize Clint.
Clint must be enhanced with aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces—a large, extended family. Then they can understand Clint in Mumbai. It’s fun to imagine a paterfamilias Clint Eastwood in cowboy hat, beard stubble, and poncho leading a large family through the desert, with babies in diapers, uncles wearing Achkans and Bandhgalas, the family Bengal cat, the kitchen sink, and a couple of pairs of those boxy, wraparound sunglasses for both maternal and paternal grandmothers. Suffice it to say, when it comes to India, it’s all about the family. Us? Not so much. So how do they date?
(L–R) Champa, Geeta, Vasant, and Ravi Patel in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)<span style="color: #ff0000;"><br/></span>
(L–R) Champa, Geeta, Vasant, and Ravi Patel in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)

‘Thank You India’

Alanis Morissette sang that. I myself never understood what she was talking about, but after seeing “Meet the Patels,” I’m pretty sure Alanis was thanking India for its Patels, because there’s an insane number of them and they’re all very nice.

“Meet the Patels” is about one Ravi Patel (that’s roughly Indian for John Smith), whose time for finding a good wife is running out. Ravi is filmmaker Geeta Patel’s brother. He’s a 29-year-old actor who lives in LA, with sister Geeta.

Ravi and Geeta Patel, brother and sister, in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)
Ravi and Geeta Patel, brother and sister, in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)
His mom and dad (Champa and Vasant) would like Ravi to marry a nice Indian girl. If it’s another Patel, so much the better. There are a variety of Patels, as we come to learn. Ravi’s definitely down for all of that. He’s all for upholding the traditions and cultural richness of his heritage. Problem is, unbeknownst to his parents, he previously had a ginger-haired, freckle-faced white girlfriend—Audrey from Connecticut (the love of his life, he'd never had a girlfriend before her)—for a couple of years. All the pressure that Vasant and Champa put on him to marry an Indian girl tragically caused him to break up with Audrey.

‘Hey, We Could Make a Film About …’

So with parental pressure to marry, neither sibling getting lucky, both in showbiz, in America, the Indian subculture of matrimonial matchmaking not being known by Americans … what’s that spell? A prepackaged documentary filmmaking opportunity!
Ravi and Geeta Patel in  "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)
Ravi and Geeta Patel in  "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)

Ravi goes on a parent-sanctioned, nationwide dating spree, which makes extensive use of “biodata.” That’s basically a marriage-candidacy résumé that came into existence in India to facilitate a more rapid, universal assimilation of the yottabytes of Patel data. This biodata makes the rounds, rapidly covering enormous ground and shrinking the time-space continuum of the Patel eligible-spouse universe. Add to that, Indian internet dating websites and, lastly, a speed-dating Patel Matrimonial Convention.

Turns out that “Patel” is not only a widespread name, it’s almost a caste unto itself. And there are two different types of Patels. No wait! Three! There are so many, Vasant almost forgot how many.

Cultural Insights

This Patel dating-ritual display is sort of wonderfully Discovery Channel-like, sprinkled here and there with storyboard-type animated sequences, and Geeta’s contributions in the time-honored “hidden man” comedy role (in this case, speaking lines perpetually off-camera).
(L–R) Champa, Ravi, Vasant, and Geeta Patel, cartoon alter egos, in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)
(L–R) Champa, Ravi, Vasant, and Geeta Patel, cartoon alter egos, in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)
Using Hot Chocolate’s lyric “I believe in miracles! Where ya from, you sexy thing?” as background music to Ravi’s first date, Geeta captures many of Ravi’s amusing pre-date hair-mousse fiddlings and post-date, slightly traumatized “What just happened to me?” thousand-yard stares.

There are some hilarious, fellow Indian marriage-seeker discussions about inter-Indian racial prejudices and resultant practices, such as the widespread slathering of a skin-lightening lotion called “Fair and Lovely” (male version: “Fair and Handsome”) as well as the labels of the various gradients of skin tone, such as “wheat-ish-brown.”

Ravi is a wheat-ish-brown man himself. It would have been interesting to see the Indian version of gradients-of-brown labels compared and contrasted with their African-American counterparts, such as “cinnamon” and “chocolate.” Ravi Indian-accent mocks his mother: “If my mom saw me in the sun right now, she'd be like, ‘Yourrr merrrit valyooo eez plummetinggg!’”
Ravi and Geeta Patel in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)
Ravi and Geeta Patel in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)


Ravi’s dates keep coming up short. Is he too picky? His parents vehemently think so, especially Champa, who’s a known, skilled matchmaker of excellent repute. According to her, if you can get the education and religion to match up, it’s pretty much a slam-dunk. Ravi’s just gotta go for it. Her son should just stop this American noncommittal foolishness. “You will be 60 years old, and still you will be saying, ‘I think I am making progress!’”
(L–R) Son Ravi, mom Champa, daughter Geeta, and dad Vasant Patel in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)
(L–R) Son Ravi, mom Champa, daughter Geeta, and dad Vasant Patel in "Meet the Patels." (Alchemy)

Scene Stealers

Champa and Vasant pretty much steal the show. They’re quick with one-liners and playful matrimonial trash talk. It’s heartwarming to experience what feels like a professional level of marriage, as opposed to the endless, amateur, two-years-and-a-divorce situation that mostly goes on in America these days.

All in all, these Patels are such nice people. You get involved in Ravi’s search, ride the emotional rollercoaster of laughs and disappointments, and root for both brother and sister to find their soulmates.

Also, you may experience a bit of envy. There’s a wonderful sequence describing how all the various Patel factions add up to one gigantic family, and how if one Patel family on vacation happens by chance to stay at a motel run by a different Patel family, there’s an immediate “family reunion.” The women cook, the children play, the men discuss manly things like politics while sitting naked in the bathtub together, and when it’s time to leave, everyone cries. They may never see each other again. But they are family. This is priceless.

This is also very good cultural diplomacy, because so far probably the only impression Americans have of Patels comes from the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” in an Al Pacino rant about trying to sell real estate to a Patel. Roughly: “Patel? Patel?! If the gods Shiva and Vishnu handed this guy a million dollars, told him, ‘Sign the deal!’ he wouldn’t sign!”

Which gave us the impression that Indians named Patel are indecisive. But maybe that’s just Americanized Patels, since Ravi can’t seem to sign off on any spousal deal either, and as we’re shown throughout “Meet the Patels,” Indian men get married in a heartbeat and stay married until their hearts stop beating.

However, Ravi can’t sign on the dotted marriage line because of another reason altogether. To find out what that might be, you‘ll just have to see the movie. Meanwhile, Ravi’s cast-ability in Hollywood skyrocketed post “Meet the Patels.” Will success in showbiz enhance his résumé? I’m wondering if there will be a “Meet the Patels II.” Personally, I’m liking “Ravi Went A-Courtin’ and He Did Find” as a title.

Charlize Theron and Ravi Patel in the hilarious comedy "Long Shot." (Netflix)
Charlize Theron and Ravi Patel in the hilarious comedy "Long Shot." (Netflix)
‘Meet the Patels’ Director: Geeta Patel, Ravi Patel Starring: Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel, Champa V. Patel, Vasant K. Patel Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes MPAA Rating: PG Release Date: Sept. 11, 2015 3.5 stars out of 5
Mark Jackson is the chief film critic for The Epoch Times. In addition to the world’s number-one storytelling vehicle—film, he enjoys martial arts, weightlifting, Harley-Davidsons, vision questing, rock-climbing, qigong, oil painting, and human rights activism. Mark earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Williams College, followed by a classical theater training, and has 20 years’ experience as a New York professional actor, working in theater, commercials, and television daytime dramas. He recently narrated the Epoch Times audiobook “How the Specter of Communism is Ruling Our World,” which is available on iTunes and Audible. Mr. Jackson is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic.
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