Is dating in America that different from dating in India? Indian and American cultures couldn’t be more dissimilar; theirs is roughly 11,000 years old, our is 239 years old.
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 diapers, binkies, the family wiener dog, the kitchen sink, and a couple of pairs of those boxy, wrap-around 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?
‘Thank You India’
Alanis Morrisette sang that. I myself never understood what she was talking about, but after seeing the delightful (LA Film Festival, Best Feature Documentary, Audience Award-winning) “Meet the Patels,” I’m thinking maybe 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 of 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.
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 with all that. He’s all for upholding the traditions and cultural richness of his heritage.
Problem is, unbeknownst to his parents, he already 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 Vasant and Champa put on him to marry an Indian girl tragically caused Ravi to break up with Audrey.
‘Hey, We Could Make a Film About …’
So with parental pressure to marry, neither sibling getting lucky, both siblings being in showbiz, the Indian subculture of matrimonial matchmaking on the table … what’s that spell? Prepackaged filmmaking opportunity!
Ravi goes on a parent-sanctioned, nationwide dating spree, which makes extensive use of the “bio data.” That’s basically a marriage-candidacy résumé that came into existence to facilitate a more rapid, universal assimilation of the yottabytes of Patel data. These bio-datum make 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 “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.
This Patel mating-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).
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-ing and 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 prejudice, 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 a gradient-of-brown label matchup with 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, ‘Your merit value is plummeting!'”
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 sixty years old, and still you will be saying, ‘I think I am making progress!'”
Champa and Vasant pretty much steal the show. They’re quick with one-liners and playful matrimonial trash-talk. It’s heart-warming 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, and 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 in the bathtub together, and when it’s time to leave, everyone cries. They may never see each other again. But they were 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;” 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 …
‘Meet the Patels’
Director: Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel
Starring: Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel, Champa V. Patel, Vasant K. Patel
Running Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 11
3.5 stars out of 5