Ravi V. Patel Explores Marriage And His Own Family In Documentary ‘Meet the Patels’

Photo Credit: Alchemy
January 26th, 2016

Ravi V. Patel isn’t just another Indian actor, as his budding resume over the last few years has shown. In addition to being a regular on John Stamos’ FOX comedy Grandfathered, and his guest spot on the highly buzzed about Indians on TV episode of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, Patal has put his own personal search for love, identity, family and culture on display in the family documentary Meet the Patels, now out on DVD and Blu-ray.

Patel and his sister Geeta co-directed this true life story of how their parents, Vasant K and Champa V. Patel, organized a series of dates for him all across America to find a future wife – even as he kept dwelling on his breakup with an American girl named Audrey that he couldn’t even tell his parents about. Such a personal story obviously wasn’t meant to be a movie at first, but things turned out different, as Patel explained in an interview with TheMovieNetwork.com on Jan. 19.

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“My sister had bought this video camera because she wanted to learn how to use one. She was gonna film our family trip to India, do a little short documentary on that and the charity work that Mom and Dad do. But by the time we were done, we had these intimate conversations about how crazy it was that I had to hide this really big experience in my life from my parents. Why was I doing that?”

Ravi comes to terms with this as Geeta films him and their parents trying to find a suitable girlfriend/wife, and as he and Geeta have one-on-one conversations that are animated in the movie. This is just one of many tactics used to appeal to all audiences, as Patel stated.

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“From the very beginning, we knew we wanted to make something that was raw, in terms of being very accessible. We wanted people who don’t care about Indians or don’t like documentaries to still enjoy this movie.

So it started with us making the documentary look and feel like a romantic comedy. Not just structurally, but with the music that we use, the way we cut it and the tempo. We use these When Harry Met Sally type interviews with actual clips of romantic comedies, and we also wanted to have fun in how we told the story.”

Not only do the Patels take pages out of the romantic comedy formula and even movies like American Splendor, they shed light on the process of arranged marriage and matchmaking in the Indian community that goes beyond common stereotypes. In fact, as the Patels use “biodata” to build up Ravi’s resume to women -- and stretch the truth in some areas – the only real difference between these methods and American online dating is a lack of beating around the bush and more helping hands.

It worked for Ravi and Geeta’s parents, who were arranged to be married decades ago and are still happy and prosperous together. Between this film and the shows Master of None and The Mindy Project depicting successful arranged Indian marriages, the practice is now being mined for more thoughtful insights and comedic material these days.

As Patel further explains, the model may be opposite to American concepts of falling in love, but the byproduct can still be the same.

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“The arranged marriage model brings up some really important lessons, especially to American society, about what is it that makes a relationship work. I think we’re particularly conditioned and highly rely on the notion of love, and I think we’re conditioned to believe that love is not something we can control.

In an arranged marriage, love is a product of doing things the right way. Compatibility means wanting the same things in life, and having similar family values, which is ultimately what you should be looking for whether it’s in an arranged marriage or not.

And also there’s this idea of commitment. If all the things align, in terms of compatibility, then this is something that you work as a team to make better and better. And the better it gets, the deeper the byproduct you’ve got, is love.”

Meet the Patels’ efforts to examine and find such love has already gone over well on the documentary circuit, to the point where Fox Searchlight Pictures has the rights to remake it as a feature film. However, the most important rave reviews the younger Patels received came when they showed it to the older Patels, as Ravi shared.

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“I remember we were sitting in the kitchen and the door was closed, and we were just holding our ears to the door and listening for their reaction. It’s probably one of the most fulfilling moments of my life because they’re our parents. And we put them in a documentary, but we also spent so much time making this thing.

On the one hand, we wanted them to be proud that our time was well spent. That we made something good and important to them. On the other hand, just as people who were in this film and trusted us to let us tell their story, we wanted them to feel like we told it in a way that was authentic, and told it with respect to their point of views.

It felt really good when we walked out of that kitchen door and asked ‘What did you think?’ and they were like ‘We love it.’ It was an awesome feeling. And it has been the most incredible journey of a lifetime.”

That journey can now be bought or rented on DVD and Blu-ray, while Patel can also be seen weekly on Grandfathered every Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. est on FOX.

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