Siblings Ravi Patel and Geeta Patel teamed up to make a documentary, Meet the Patels, that gives an inside look at what it’s like for Indian-Americans who decide to stick with tradition and submit themselves to the idea of an arranged marriage.

Ravi & Geeta Patel Video Interview

Meet the Patels follows Ravi, an actor in his 30s who is facing increasing pressure from his parents to find a suitable wife. After hiding a relationship with a caucasian woman named Aubrey for two years, Ravi finds himself single and stressed about the future of his romantic life. Enter Geeta, his sister, and an amateur documentary filmmaker, who realizes that Ravi’s quest for a wife could yield some interesting footage.

“I thought the last thing I would wanna do is make a documentary, I was like no,” said Geeta, who brought her camera with her to their family’s annual trip to India. “So I’m on this trip just doing my own thing, filming dad’s charity work and Ravi is like really suffering. It’s really funny, so I of course decide to film it, because that’s what sisters do.”

In conversation with his sister, Ravi told of how only his Indian friends could understand and empathize with his failure to introduce his ex-girlfriend to his parents – while his other friends could not.

“I was talking about how it’s crazy that I’m a grown man and I’m hiding a girlfriend from my parents. There’s this weird thing where I would tell my non-Indian friends that I hadn’t told my parents about her. They were like, ‘You are an asshole, how could you do that to her, that’s so disrespectful, you are a small man,'” Ravi explained to uInterview. “Then I turn to my Indian friends and tell them I have this white girlfriend and the first thing they say is, ‘You didn’t tell your parents did you?’”

This perspective is just one of many that Indian-Americans can share with fellow Indian-Americans. All of the socioeconomic and cultural similarities can arguably lead to arranged marriages that are incredibly successful – like that of Ravi and Geeta’s parents – and encourage younger generations to follow the tradition.

“Socioeconomic background, cultural values. Do they eat the same food, speak the same language, do they live near each other?” Ravi said, explaining what goes into arranged marriages. “The Patel complex in coming to America is how do we keep the same value system intact? How do we keep the culture just as strong? That’s when they created the biodata, which is this matrimonial resume that the Patel parents pass around amongst each other to help Patels find each other and marry each other.”

In Meet the Patels, Ravi decides to let his parents – and the broader Patel family – help find him a suitable lifetime companion. The intense dating saw Ravi flying around the U.S. and over to India. Despite the involvement of his parents and the grueling travel schedule, Ravi believes that it was a worthwhile exercise.

“The system works; it worked for everyone. Mom and dad are as you saw the movie, an incredible couple. So good together,” Ravi said. “I have friends who have done the system and they’re so happy together. So there’s an empirical basis for saying, ‘Hey this thing works. I really wanted to meet someone.’ If I end up finding that girl who cares how it happens.”

Geeta chimed in, “So many films are about, ‘Oh the crazy Indian parents that arrange marriages – isn’t that weird,'” adding, “That’s not really what it’s like for most of us. We don’t see our parents as crazy. We don’t see their process as crazy.”

Meet the Patels is currently in theaters.

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Q: Where did the idea for this film come from? -

[Ravi]: I’ll get asked to MC or do stand up at various charity events – I was doing one probably about 8 years ago now. It was a 400 or 500 Indian lawyers-convention, and I started telling them about how my parents were really pressuring me to get married, and everyday I’ll check my email and it’ll be a resume and headshot of some girl with the last name Patel who lives on the other side of the country. And that I was suppose to take that resume and phone call the girl and say, ‘Hey a distant relative of yours is friends with your neighbor and connected us, and they think we’d be great for marriage. Hey, I’m Ravi.’

It was just a really awkward way of blind dating, and phone calling, and I remember people were just dying laughing in a way that I never felt before because behind there was like this real emotion, like a visceral – we were all in the same tragedy. Then, I had this epiphany where I stop and go, ‘Hey how many of you are single?’ and everyone raises their hand, and I’m like, ‘Oh that’s right, cause that’s why you’re here!’

There is never a legal scenario where you need to get another Indian lawyer on the horn. The only scenario is, ‘Oh you’re Indian too. I met you at the lawyer convention, wanna go out?’

After that show everyone was coming up to me and they were like, ‘I’m so glad you talked about that. You should do a comedy tour, write a book.’ And I was like OK good. At the time, I was looking for career opportunities. I thought this could be my direction, seems important, people are sharing their stories. They’re hilarious.

Then they were sharing stories that were really tragic in nature and major like suicide, and that’s when I knew this is really important and I feel like I have an opinion and a voice in it. Then like many things in my life it disappeared.

What happened was just as you’ve seen in the documentary we went on this family trip to India. I just got out of this relationship with this white girlfriend, who I never told mom and dad about. I’m going through this eat, pray, love kind of pain, and simultaneously scare my parents...And Geeta had just bought this camera.

[Geeta]: I had just finished making my first documentary. It took seven years and it was in a war zone, and I could barely move and was exhausted and totally like broke, and was just like I’m gonna learn how to use a camera on this vacation. I’m gonna get some work when I get back.

Ravi: She never did learn how to use the camera as you just saw the movie.

Geeta: I thought the last thing I would wanna do is make a documentary, I was like no. So I’m on this trip just doing my own thing, filming dad’s charity work and Ravi is like really suffering. It’s really funny, so I of course decide to film it, because that’s what sisters do.

Ravi: She’s playing with the camera, we’re having these conversations, I was talking about how it’s crazy that I’m a grown man and I’m hiding a girlfriend from my parents. There’s this weird thing where I would tell my non-Indian friends that I hadn’t told my parents about her. They were like, ‘You are an asshole, how could you do that to her, that’s so disrespectful, you are a small man.’ Then I turn to my Indian friends and tell them I have this white girlfriend and the first thing they say is, ‘You didn’t tell your parents did you?’ It’s the exact opposite. Indians know, they get it. You don’t really show your parents, come out of the closet with the white girlfriend until you know you’re sure.

Geeta: Until you know they’re ready to hear it and they never are really. So we’re filming this on vacation, like we’re talking, this is what’s happening, Ravi’s doing this and he’s hilarious and we’re giggling. We think we’re just two siblings having fun, we’re thinking everybody thinks their family videos are funny, so we’re having fun. Then Ravi had this idea. He goes, “Why don’t we have like a journalistic version of this. Why don’t we do a Morgan Spurlock, very academic look at this aspect of our culture. It’s interesting.’

Q: Can you explain the Patel-on-Patel love phenomenon? -

Ravi: My parents got an arranged marriage. The arranged marriage is premised in a very simple idea that marriage is almost an economic opportunity to put everyone in a better position, so it’s less about the individuals and more about two families joining forces and hopefully making a stronger unit. In India, the main thing – it’s the same thing that’s reflected in the modern day biodata. The main thing in an arranged marriage is compatibility.

Socioeconomic background, cultural values. Do they eat the same food, speak the same language, do they live near each other? In my mom and dad’s case it was pretty simple. You would go to any village that on the map was counter-clockwise from yours. That I guess prevented incest. The Patel complex in coming to America is how do we keep the same value system intact? How do we keep the culture just as strong? That’s when they created the biodata, which is this matrimonial resume that the Patel parents pass around amongst each other to help Patels find each other and marry each other.

Everyone in our family, all of our cousins, have done the system and they’re in successful happy relationships. Everyone except of course us. I guess that’s why eventually this movie ended up becoming about us.

Q: How long has the Patel system been going on? -

Ravi: I would imagine as soon as there was two Patels.
Geeta: Gosh I don’t know we should ask somebody.
Ravi: It wouldn’t have been like incest, or siblings, so not like the first four Patels. There must have been at some point so many Patels. The thing about last names in India, which is important, is it’s not just a family name. The last names are indicative of castes, so Patels were labeled for being a certain kind of person.
Geeta: Farmers
Ravi: I think it actually started as a label that was given to a huge group of people, who were not related.
Geeta: It’s you know, bricklayer, shoe maker, that kinda thing and so Patels are the farming families and they’re all from a certain area. So it’s kinda like if Americans only married Americans.

Q: Ravi, what was it like travelling all across North America on dates? -

Ravi: I was most shocked that it’s really hard to get status on airlines is what I noticed. I thought I would be at some sort of platinum level by the time I was done, but it takes more than that. They have to be first class flights. I was always flying coach.

The dates were really fun, it was interesting. I was at a point in my life where I was probably more open minded than I’ve ever been. By open-minded, I mean probably desperate.

The system works; it worked for everyone. Mom and dad are as you saw the movie, an incredible couple. So good together. I have friends who have done the system and they’re so happy together. So there’s an empirical basis for saying, ‘Hey this thing works. I really wanted to meet someone.’ If I end up finding that girl who cares how it happens.

Geeta: I feel like it’s if somebody said to you ‘I know how to help you find love and keep love and stay in love. I know exactly how to make that happen. I know how to make you happy.’

So many films are about the crazy Indian parents that arrange – isn’t that weird. That’s not really what it’s like for most of us. We don’t see our parents as crazy. We don’t see their process as crazy.

Q: How do you feel about the differences between courtship in America and India? -

Geeta: I think it’s like an exploration of how do you find love? How do you know when you have it and how do you keep it? What is normal? What is healthy? All those things that people go through on a daily basis even if they’re married. The constant relationship struggle I think that was the exploration. One of the greatest lessons we learned was from dad, he said, ‘Love is a choice and love is a commitment.’

Ravi: The journey of what this film was to our family is almost a metaphor for what the search for love is like. Love is a choice even with us as a family in deciding, like sibling filmmakers we wanted to make a movie together.

Geeta: I think what we got out of this experience is like this miracle relationship with each other.