New Documentary Explores Tradition of Arranged Marriage from a Fresh Perspective

The process of finding a life partner is undoubtedly a nerve-wracking experience for hopeful singles looking for love. Flirting and first dates can lead to a blissful lifetime union, or to the heartbreak and disappointment of a breakup. Naturally, most people on the dating scene putting their hearts on the line prefer to keep their experiences in this quest for love private. But that wasn’t the case for actor and comedian Ravi Patel; he not only involved his entire family in his search for a bride, he filmed it as well. The result is a new documentary entitled Meet the Patels, and it’s garnering rave reviews for its warm and humorous take on bridging the cultural gap between first generation Americans and the traditions of their immigrant parents.

In 2007, IndianAmerican entertainer Ravi Patel broke up with his longtime girlfriend Audrey, an American-born redhead whose existence he never revealed to his parents Champa and Vasant Patel, immigrants from India who insisted that he adhere to tradition and marry an Indian woman. Nearing 30 and still unmarried, Ravi decided to take part in the ancient Indian tradition of arranged marriage, and allowed his parents to screen and select potential dates for him in the hopes that a wedding – and children – would soon follow. He allowed his sister Geeta, who is also American born and working in the entertainment industry as a writer and director, to film every aspect of the experience for nearly three years. She captured on film everything from Ravi reviewing written resumes of prospective wives to perusing online dating sites in search of an IndianAmerican woman whom his parents would consider acceptable, and even flying to India to spend time with his extended family and go on dates arranged by eager aunts and uncles.  [See Introducing Meet the Patels, The Best 2015 Documentary That You Probably Haven’t Heard Of, by Julie Miller, Vanity Fair, 10.Sep.2015.]

Although American-born Ravi clashes at times with the rigid cultural traditions of his parents, the film emphasizes the family bond, and the fact that falling in love can happen in unexpected ways. He reflected on this during a recent interview with NPR. “My parents are both Indian. And [my sister and I] were born here. And while they grew up the old school way, not dating, having family put them together, my sister and I are American. Even though in many important ways we’re Indian.” His sister Geeta echoed his sentiments, adding that even though she and Ravi struggled to relate to the concept of arranged marriage at first, they eventually came to appreciate it as part of the Indian culture to which they feel strongly connected. Speaking of her parents as well as her extended family in India, who all had arranged marriages, she noted, “These are the happiest relationships we know. These are our models for love.” [See Meet the Patels: One Man’s Quest To Find Love The Old School Indian Way, by Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR, 11.Sep.2015.]

First generation Americans and their parents often face unique relationship challenges, as cultural differences can make it difficult for them to connect. But Meet the Patels shows us that immigrants and their children can be committed to the American dream and still honor the culture and traditions of their native country, resulting in an even stronger family bond. More than anything, Geeta Patel hopes that the film will “humanize the truth” about arranged marriage and its importance in Indian culture. “We think our parents are very much in love, and it’s a pretty amazing system. And even though we don’t want to do it exactly the way they do it, there’s some magic there.”


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