There was a time when my entire extended family’s main concern was when I would finish my degree and find a path for my life. However, ever since we came to the realization that my true calling was making too-foamy lattes with inconsistent art, the phone calls, check-ins, lectures, and dinnertime conversations have all been about one thing — marriage. I try to explain the cultural norms here about dating and how I’d like a stable career first, or at the very least learn how to properly steam milk.
In Meet the Patels, Ravi Patel, a Gujrati-American actor (who guest-starred on Master of None) has similar arguments with his parents, but with heightened urgency. He’s nearing 30 and as far as they know he’s never even dated. In reality he was dating a great girl for over two years just weeks before a family Patel trip to India, but doubt and cultural stigma, along with his parents’ wishes that he end up with a “perfect Patel girl,” meant he was never able to tell them about her.
There are a few strands explored in this documentary, all heartwarmingly captured through candid home videos shot by Ravi’s sister Geeta (co-director, also 30-something and single) and intercut with animated interviews. The most obvious one is how it tackles the idea of traditional arranged marriages and arranged dating compared to how it works in the West. Can you find love, or does it grow and build? While initially reluctant and a little embarrassed, Ravi gives arranged dating a chance and jumps into a world of dating resumes screened by his family, matrimonial websites that filter by caste, and even a “Patel Convention” with three and a half hours of icebreakers. However, while the focus is on him, there are quite a few moments where the audience’s attention is drawn to Geeta, who, while maintaining the aura of an impartial observer, also has her own experiences and struggles with the pressures of marriage and living up to the expectations of their parents and culture.
Leading a double life, the one we live in our homes and amongst our families, and the one we live out in the world with our friends, is an experience shared by many. For the children of immigrants there is an immense pressure to balance and negotiate between two worlds, old and new, to honour the sacrifices of our parents. During a tense moment in the latter half of the film Ravi’s mother laments that she “will not give up her culture so easily.” Yet traditions change, cultures adapt, and assimilation looms over their heads. At times funny and charming, but also heartbreaking, Meet The Patels is an amazing showcase of how cultures clash and the people in between must decide who they will be and how they will love.