Ravi Patel is sitting across from a pretty, young Indian-American woman. He smiles nervously at her, his hair, still a little wet from the water he used, to slick it back into a semi-pouf (it doesn’t look great). The girl laughs as he checks in and makes sure she is okay: “Hey, is it cool with you if my sister records our first date?” And thus begins, the saga of awkward first dates made more awkward by a camera-wielding sister, complicated emotions, and self-discovery.
‘Meet The Patels’ is a terribly earnest and sweet documentary film that investigates how Indians navigate love, marriage, and relationships while abroad, specifically within the first-generation immigrant, American context. Ravi Patel, an Indian-American actor, gets Geeta, his sister, to join him on a journey as he tries to find love, the way his parents did – through an arranged marriage. The project begins shortly after Ravi has broken up with his girlfriend of two years because he can’t bring himself to introduce her to his parents who have no idea he has been dating a white girl out in California.
The story that ‘Meet The Patels’ tells, reflects that the ways in which Indians approach love and marriage have been radically changing over the past two decades. Traditional approaches to arranged marriages have changed drastically with over 1,500 websites dedicated to carefully airbrushed and flattering (often misleading?) profile pictures, inflated bio-datas, and very specific wish lists of physical and character traits for prospective partners. Inter-caste and inter-religion marriages have also been on the rise (if you’re interested in reading more about modern love in India, check out ‘India in Love: Sexuality and Marriage in the 21st Century by Ira Trivedi’).
Still, overwhelmingly, Indian millennials continue to participate in arranged or semi-arranged marriages. Research conducted by the International Institute for Population Sciences and the Population Council found that while semi-arranged marriages have increased to around a quarter of all marriages, only 5 percent of surveyed matches constituted ‘love marriages’. While Indian culture has seen some shift in how love and marriage is conceptualised, marriage largely remains an institution, shaped and informed by strong parental and familial involvement.
As ‘Meet The Patels’ skillfully documents, a lot of those ideas about love and marriage get transported along with families who immigrate out from India. Balancing different cultural norms around a decision that forms a big part of many people’s lives can get pretty darn tricky.
As an Indian-American who is also dating a white guy, who also broke up with him because I was terrified of introducing him to my parents, who also had to have some really tough conversations with my mother and father, ‘Meet The Patels’ feels like a warm hug. Despite the shaky footage and the ever-present boom mic, it’s just nice to see how other Indian families tackle these problems within these contexts of immigration and modern life. As the first child in my family, I had to break a lot of my parents’ expectations, expectations that make sense in the Indian context but can’t exactly fit in the American context.
I also had to learn how to talk to my parents about things, even topics that were super scary. It’s tough being in an interracial relationship because there is a lot, a lot that you have to learn on top of just learning how to build a healthy dialogue with another person. But that’s what I find really beautiful about it – I get to expose my partner to a whole other world while I have to learn how to engage with my partner’s cultural context in a way that keeps mine intact. ‘Meet The Patels’ is a must-watch for everyone whether you’re a parent, a child, or a partner. Plus, the next time my Indian cousin asks me what it’s like to date in America, I have a pretty handy resource that captures the pressures of interracial relationships and seemingly conflicted ideas of love and marriage between the spheres of India and America. That’s no small feat.