“Patel’s capture of a clash of cultures and generations provides for a thought-provoking thesis, but the material itself is executed in a flat and scattershot way.”
by Ken Bakely
For Ravi Patel, the fact that he’s thirty and unmarried is not a huge deal for him. Why should it be? He’s got time. However, this is a very big deal for his parents – they are Indian immigrants who expect him to conform to traditional cultural standards and settle down as soon as possible. This is a point of discussion which becomes significantly more palpable during the annual family trip to India. Ravi, an actor by profession, enlists his sister Geeta to record the entire visit on camera to provide a living document of the familial pressures he faces, while he tries to come to a point of compromise.
Meet the Patels is a generally insightful documentary for those of us without these specific Indian-American roots. Patel mentions early on that his upbringing at home was very traditional, while childhood among friends was that of quintessential Middle America. When he got older, his first serious relationship was with a white woman, and it lasted for two years. He never told his parents about her, not sure how they would react to the news. Now, as the Patels travel from the United States back to to India visit relatives, Ravi’s parents become overly fixated on reminding him of the expectation – he will marry an Indian woman, likely also named Patel (it is a very common name, and indicates that the ideological background of the two families is similar), and they will have children, and it will be great.
Patel’s capture of a clash of cultures and generations provides for a thought-provoking thesis, but the material itself is executed in a flat and scattershot way. At 88 minutes, Meet the Patels doesn’t drag on or stray off-topic, but the material feels repetitive, mowing over the divide at its center, from a handful of angles, but neglecting to address the greater implications of the topic head on, with the exception of a few minutes at the start and at the end. This is disappointing, with these glimpses of deeper substance and introspection left without significant focus or attention. However, it’s hard to deny the fascination to be had as Ravi Patel tries to penetrate the centuries-old wall of Indian marriage culture, only to be pushed back and forth between his own instincts and making sure his family remains supportive. It’s something that few of us feel on such a dramatic level, and serves as a teaching tool in that respect in gentle, entertaining tones that is difficult for many documentaries to achieve.