Saturday, September 19, 2015

Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel | Meet the Patels

the matchmaker’s son
by Douglas Messerli

Matthew Hamachek, Billy McMillin, Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel (writers), Geeta Patel and Ravi Patel (directors) Meet the Patels  2015     

What to do if you’re a 30-year old American and East Indian ancestry, with a father anxious to see you married and a mother known for her matchmaking arts? You give in, naturally, and, after traveling to India to meet dozens of your women who share your last name—in this case Patel—you travel throughout the US and Canada on one long series of dates with women whom your parents have chosen based on education, skin-color (wheatish, apparently is the preferred color) and—if you are a young actor with a filmmaking sister—you document the endless search!

      If this all sounds like a kind nightmarish version of Four Weddings and a Funeral, take heart. Despite some teeth-grating moments, particularly when hero arrives in the small Indian hometown of his parents in Gujarat, where everyone is a kind of “relative”—with all of them insisting it is time for Ravi to tie the knot—the dozens of speed-dating encounters that follow are not at the center of this charming film. What we discover, instead, is that even a pair of anxious, interfering and often dominating parents such as Champa V and Vasant K. Patel, are charming, funny, loving folk who have brought up their talented children, Geeta and Ravi, with love and near endless patience, while still maintaining a deep love for one another. If the Patel parents may be one of the most intrusive on the planet, they are still very loving folk, and are born comedians.

      Certainly to most contemporary Americans, the very idea of an arranged marriage seems distasteful. But then, most marriages are, in some small manner, arranged affairs: most couples meet because they live in the same city, have gone through similar educational experiences, and share ideals and values. As many exceptions as there are to these patterns, we basically rely mostly on the “arrangements” we have made with our lives, even if we often ignore the advice our elders in choosing a life-time companion. At least in the Indian ideal, the parents have some reliable information in the form of a sort of idealized resume which describe as “bio-data.” Besides, the actual process of falling in love is still up the couple themselves, and it appears that, despite the joyfully long marriage of their parents, the beautiful Geeta and affable Ravi are having a difficult time of committing to others. At least, on screen.
      Before the film has begun, however, it increasingly becomes apparent that Ravi has found the girl for him, a beautiful, red-head, well-bred Connecticut woman, named Audrey. The only problem is that he hasn’t bothered to discuss it with his parents, and apparently still, himself, believes that it’s preferable to marry a woman of Indian descent. In fact, the biggest problems for this family are their own sometimes not so hidden racial distinctions and inbred familial attitudes. 
      As time passes, and date after date falls flat, Geeta begins querying her sibling about the girl with whom he has broken up—and yet still occasionally is still “seeing.” It finally begins to come to a boil when Audrey herself finally lays down some rules: she can no longer see Ravi if there’s no possibility of sharing her life with on a permanent basis.

      When Ravi finally reveals to mom and dad that he has been seeing a girl who he truly loves, it is the father who is more accepting, convinced that his angry wife, Champa, will eventually come around. Yet she seems determined in her anger, and it is only when she and her son sit for a serious talk, that she reveals her anger is centered on his not having honest with her; she is not insistent that he marry only someone within his race. And the last few scenes show the obviously good cook explaining to Audrey—who Ravi had to plead long and hard to return to him—how to make the family’s favorite foods.
     Now, if only Geeta….we’ll have to wait until Meet the Patels II comes out, as it well may some day. Surely, Vasant might be hired as the publicist the next time around. Reportedly, in the many venues in which this charming film first premiered, he called up all the Patels in each city, inviting them to attend the event. Lines formed around the blocks. Even in the Sundance Theater in Los Angeles where I saw this film with my companion Howard, the house was packed with Indians! But then, the actor and his sister apparently live nearbt, so I was glad to have been able to have met our neighbors.

Los Angeles, September 2015

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