Film review: Meet the Patels (2014)

This comedy by Geeta Patel and her brother Ravi shows her filming him as he tries, as an Indian-American, to navigate the dating and marriage scene that is complicated by the conflicting pressures of the two cultures. Both of them were born in the US to Indian-born parents who want them to marry and have children, preferably with other Indians or Indian-Americans who come from the same Indian state. The problem is that neither child is having much success finding marriage partners on their own and the parents step in to try to guide them through the arranged marriage process. Much of the humor comes from the westernized children of immigrants trying to accommodate the traditional expectations of their parents.

It is a pretty funny description of how marriages are arranged in India (that largely applies to Sri Lanka too). The overt racism, colorism, and ethnic, religious, and caste bigotry that surfaces during these negotiations, especially in the classified advertisements seeking marriage partners, will come as a shock to those encountering them for the first time. It has long been a source of embarrassment for others from the region because of what it reveals about the appalling attitudes that are prevalent in their communities, and they have used mockery and humor to distance themselves from it. Then there is the issue of the horoscopes of the couple having to match in order to ensure compatibility, adding yet another layer of absurdity.

The added wrinkle in this film is that ‘Patel’ is the last name of a huge number of people from a small region in the Indian state of Gujarat who form a close-knit network connected by their name and geographic proximity. That sense of kinship is carried over even after they come to the US, though they may have no biological relationship. It is as if all the people named Smith originated in a small region of England but feel a sense of belonging to the same clan even now. Ravi’s parents even take him to his ancestral home region in their efforts to try and find him a bride, since people from that region would meet most of the criteria that are sought.

The film is in the form of a cinéma vérité documentary, with the often poorly-framed images made by a shaky hand-held camera serving as a fly on the wall, capturing conversations of Ravi and his parents, sister, relatives, and friends. However, while all the characters seem to be the real-life people, I am doubtful if the film is a true documentary since the online information about the film suggests a different relationship from what the film shows for Ravi and an American girlfriend. They may have embellished that particular aspect of the story in order to enhance the humor by highlighting more clearly the cultural differences between India and the US when it comes to romance and marriage.

I can recommend the film, especially if you are curious about the whole arranged marriage thing.

Here is the trailer.


  1. Callinectes says

    My brother married into a Gujarati family last year (who came to England a few decades ago from Uganda). Fortunately they had no “traditional” expectations foisted upon their kids, and he is far from the first white person to join them. We all had a great time participating in the celebrations the family put together, though as a direct participant in the ceremonies I was pretty damn nervous not really knowing what I was doing. It was all fine in the end.

    They are expecting their first baby… more than a week ago. I do not envy my sister-in-law right now.

  2. seachange says

    Oh dear. I am partially deaf so I use closed captions sometimes to assist me understand what is being said. The loud music of this preview was enough in combination with the cinema verite missing the lips/faces of the speakers that I *needed* the CC, instead of just using it as an assist. Whoever was doing the CC was, they apparently also needed CC. At the exact same times I was confused, they typed nothing for those spots. I rolled it back and replayed it to no avail for me, alas.

    I am happy you have chosen to share something like this to us. Yet I have no idea what I just watched, sorry.

  3. blf says

    seachange@3, YouTube’s CC is often automatically-generated, which causes endless amusement and glitches, such as not being able to discriminate speech from “background” noise / music. I do not know if that is what happened here, but it’s definitely a possibility.

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