A particular scene in siblings Ravi and Geeta Patel’s Meet the Patels has Ravi’s father showing him a map of the United States and pointing out to him the concentration of Gujarati girls from the Patel community living in different parts of the U.S. It’s one of the earlier steps taken by his dad to get his son to do just one thing and one thing only – get married as soon as possible. The dad is acting like a military strategist and it made me laugh. Ravi is approaching his 30s (he was 29 at the time of filming, which happens to be my age right now) and like any parents, they are deeply concerned about his life. On the side, the pressure is being put on Geeta as well. They both live with their parents in the U.S. This might sound like the premise of a feature film in the romantic comedy genre but the fact is that it’s not a feature film. It’s a documentary. How does one pull off a documentary on a subject like this? I’ve never imagined that. But Ravi and Geeta has managed to do one, and very effectively at that.
This is the kind of film that you would appreciate more if you are in your late 20s, surrounded by pesky relatives and neighbors that are constantly asking you, “When are you going to get married?” and saying things like, “If you want, we can get you married tomorrow itself.” At one point Ravi points out – and even shows – how his entire village back home is filled with plenty of such people and compares them to Agent Smith from The Matrix who has the ability to replicate himself. I got to learn so many things from this film that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned about. To begin with, a brief introduction of Gujaratis: their culture, how many types of Gujaratis there are, what misers they are and how they make up the majority of the Indians living in the U.S. For e.g, whenever they are on a trip, Ravi’s dad always manages to book a room at a hotel that is run by a Patel (it rhymes,no?). And we also get a fascinating and in-depth look at the whole “dating process run by the parents”. For e.g, I didn’t know there was something called a “Patel Marriage Convention”. They actually show all that. You have to see it to believe it. Ha ha.
All in all, this is an immensely entertaining documentary that is structured like a feature film and I have to say, it kind of resembles a Richard Linklater film. Think Slacker, Dazed and Confused or the Before trilogy but without the acting, drama and improvisation. Well, there is a little of bit of drama and that is courtesy of Ravi’s parents, naturally. The camera is handled by Geeta and as expected of any “home video”, there are shots that are sometimes out of focus and jerky but most of it is very well done. I don’t know how everyone was able to behave the way they were doing, with the camera following them most of the time. His parents don’t seem to be bothered and act naturally in front of it. Ravi is an actor himself so I guess it’s not that difficult for him. (You might remember him as the guy who played the call center executive in the first Transformers film.) These sequences are intercut combined with animated footage of Geeta interviewing Ravi about his thoughts and sometimes this is done for the purpose of explaining the conversations that Ravi has had with his parents while Geeta was away.