Our film of the month for April is Influence Film Foundation supported MEET THE PATELS and we can’t get enough of this raucous romp through one of life’s rites of passage. Siblings Ravi and Geeta V. Patel introduce us to the tried and tested Indian tradition of arranged marriage, comically situated on American soil. As a first-generation Indian-American, Ravi grapples with the parts of himself that respond to the ways of the old world, while the status quo of his contemporaries also make complete sense, while his sister Geeta captures it all on film. A humorous rollercoaster ride through the amusement park of family relations, the core-shaking questions Ravi confronts resound with anyone out there who has ever contemplated marriage for themselves.
What is it that drew the two of you to make documentary film together?
Ravi: Common problems.
Geeta: As siblings, we avoid making anything together and I still don’t understand how this happened!?
Ravi: It started by accident – just as a home video. And then when we saw the chance to make something personal, something that could make an impact, it became a very exciting prospect. That said, it was very not easy at first because we have such different sensibilities and it took us a long time to learn how to deal with differences. Thanks to this process, I think we are both now better artists, and much closer as siblings.
Both work in film and television, how does your experience of making a documentary compare to your other work? Is there a red thread that has followed you throughout?
Ravi: Documentaries take much longer. I mean it’s tedious and lacking money. That sucks. But it also was film school for me. And making something that matters – I guess you could say it taught me what art is, to me.
Geeta: Documentaries have this magical element of human nature, world events, the complete unexpected and uncontrollable. It’s an experience that is like no other in that the story tells itself to you most of the time, rather than you writing it.
Documentarians often set out to make one film and end up making another – did you have a specific idea about how the film would turn out? And how did that evolve?
Ravi: We initially wanted to make this more journalistic piece, however as time went on, the vérité aspects and the intimacy of revealing our own family and community felt like the stronger film.
Geeta: The most important thing to us was to make a film that our own family would want to watch. As strange as this sounds, it’s a tall order!
How was it for both of you documenting such a personal experience? Did it bring you closer? Was there any point that you felt like you needed to stop filming, or that the film facilitated certain situations? For example, Ravi, do you think without the film as a vehicle, that you would have ever told your parents about Audrey?
Ravi: It’s hard to say what would have happened without this film, however I know that it changed my life and made all my relationships stronger. But yeah, it’s hard, and weird being the subject of your own film. But because I got to see myself from a third party perspective of a director and editor, I think in many ways it did help me try to change, and I guess be a better character in life. Does that make sense?
Geeta: Many times, we wanted to stop making the film. It’s a really uncomfortable and inconvenient process, and may I just add that the camera was really heavy! This film was also a huge test of my relationship with Ravi. At one point, we thought we’d never talk to each other again. This was the point that changed everything because the lesson of the film became the lesson of our relationship: We chose to make our relationship work. We changed for each other. Now, our relationship is stronger, something new, and quite a dream.
I have to ask – what’s going on now? Have either of you found “true love”?
Ravi: Haha.. Everyone asks us that, of course. We want to keep this a mystery.
Geeta: He says that, but it’s all over social media if you google us. Patels love social media.
What has been the primary conversation you have observed people are having around the film? Has it stirred up any unexpected reactions?
Ravi: The film has sparked loads of discussion between parents and their kids.
Geeta: In general, people of all communities and backgrounds have been writing to us about how the film has changed how they deal with their relationships with spouses, friends, brothers, sisters, children… It’s been amazing to hear all these stories!
Ravi: The unexpected stuff: 1) I expected, or at least hoped, that Indians would love this film. I’m still shocked that it seems almost every Indian I know has seen it. That’s crazy. 2) even more unexpected is the diverse audience this film has resonated with. People are relating to it in so many ways I did not see coming.
It’s not often that a documentary can be classified as a romantic comedy, and you manage to do it so well! Many documentaries inspire people to learn more, take action or get involved in some way, and while Meet the Patels might not be your typical doc, is there anything people can do after watching the film?
Ravi: People don’t spend enough time on their relationships these days. We hope they will talk to the people they love and learn how to be in a healthy relationship. It’s really hard! I also think the main thing we are hoping people take from this film is that they just make effort in communicating with the people they love. In many ways, this film is broadly about how to love your family.
Geeta: Yes, as small a step as this sounds, it’s the key to everything in life. This film is indeed a social issue film. It’s just disguised as a funny film. This was entirely our goal and we’re so excited that it’s working.
What would your documentary playlist consist of?
Ravi and Geeta: Hoop Dreams, Ghosts of Cite Soleil, Sherman’s March, Racing Dreams, Roger and Me, Waltz with Bashir
MEET THE PATELS is Influence Film Club’s featured films for April. Each month Influence Film Club hand-picks one (or two) of our favorite docs as our club’s featured film(s) to watch and discuss together. Throughout the month, starting with our newsletter and continuing on our website and social media we will extend the conversation by exploring the various issues touched on in the film(s), providing filmmaker interviews, suggesting ways to influence, and discussing documentaries in general – because after all, We Love Docs.
Interview by: Isis Graham