Actor Ravi Patel starts an exciting new job as Ken on the new FOX comedy Grandfathered. But before Ravi was a cook in John Stamos's fictional restaurant, the 30-something was looking for a love match in the documentary Meet the Patels. For him, the film is about family. For the audience, it is an insight on Indian culture and the process of matchmaking. Yes, it is indeed a process, spanning continents and understanding algorithms.
Behind the camera (either encouraging or playfully teasing him) is Ravi's sister, Geeta. Together the siblings wake up in the morning, stretch out their legs, have a little breakfast and leave the window of their lives open for about a year. Ravi, from their parent's point of view, is too Americanized. And he has to find a proper Indian woman, get married and have lots of babies. Ravi is not having any of this, but after some reflection and heartache, decides that maybe it is time to settle down. Thus, he throws himself into the marriage mart and agrees to let his parents take the wheel.
It eventually evolved into a deep exposé on my life.
In the beginning Ravi and Geeta were not really sure what the film was going to be. Shot in a style that is very homemade, with bad framing and a constantly peeking boom mic, the siblings initially thought it was going to be a fun experiment. But eventually, they found the story and knew it deserved the effort. It took them about six years to complete the project and there were many obstacles along the way, including finding the right animators (yes, there is some awesome animation going on in this film).
And when we started embracing the fact that there was something beautiful in all this raw footage, that had a camera and microphone in it the whole time, and it was out of focus…we just stuck with it.
The result is a charming, warm film that emphasizes a strong family bond. It is a love test. And the hardest test is on Ravi and Geeta's relationship. They spent all of their on camera time together. In addition, at the time of the film, they also lived together in LA.
Not to be outdone, the two real stars of the film are dad and mom, also known as Vasant and Champa Patel. They are an example of a happy couple. After Ravi agrees to the matchmaking project, Vasant and Champa go out on the field and start a massive campaign to find him the perfect Indian woman (or maybe just one that is breathing and can cook). Any resistance from Ravi is greeted with witty comebacks and furrowing brows. The film has a lot heart though because of the love and respect Ravi and Geeta have for their parents. And Vasant and Champa may look tough, but they are pretty cool. Ravi and Geeta constantly reiterate throughout the film that they want what their parents have.
You should see them on stage or in interviews. You'd think they'd been doing this for thirty years.
Getting a nice Indian wife should be easy, right? It seems like every day there is a wedding to attend. And with matchmaking conventions and websites, family recommendations (heck the whole Indian community), and the ability to travel to the dates his parents set him up with, Ravi will be hearing wedding bells well before the year is up. But quickly he finds that it's a challenge. The travel starts wearing him down, the novelty of dating gets old and his parents clearly don't understand what he's looking for. The biodata, on the surface, is failing. But a deeper realization emerges.
To me it gave me a much fuller picture of what it takes to be in a real relationship and it also gave me a fuller picture of the kind of person that I was looking for.
After years of finding the right team to make a solid end product, for a while, the film struggled to get into the festival circuit. Until finally, the Hot Docs festival in Toronto gave them their chance. It was finally time for the world to meet the Patels. That audience made all the difference. After the screening, the news spread about the hilarious, heartfelt and unique film. Theaters sold out. Geeta and the team began receiving letters from people across the country begging for screenings. Much like the matchmaking effort, Vasant started his own marketing campaign by traveling across the country putting up yard signs promoting the film. It really is a rags to riches Cinderella story– the riches being Meet the Patels is getting a bigger audience.
I think the greatest surprise for us was when we did go to Toronto, and we premiered, and we looked out at this 700-person audience every night, and I would say 90 percent of them were not Indian.
Meet the Patels might be the little film that almost didn't make it, but it is definitely worth the theaters space next to the big budget films. It is the most refreshing and uplifting documentary of the year.
Click here for more information about Meet the Patels screenings.