It all began when Ravi Patel, a 30-year-old Indian-American investment banker turned Hollywood actor, pestered by his parents on a long flight to India to get married, agreed to search for his bride the “desi” way.
And Ravi’s sister Geeta, just out of making a war zone documentary about Kashmir, now learning to handle the camera, started filming “half seriously” the “family affair” to find a desi partner for Ravi, who had just broken with his white girlfriend of two years.
How what began as a family vacation video eventually turned into a hilarious romantic documentary about arranged marriages is an equally heartbreaking story as the sibling co-directors of “Meet the Patels” relate it.
“When we got to India, Ravi realised that what he was going through is what so many people have gone through,” the duo told IANS on phone ahead of its Friday release in New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles. It opens in additional US markets including Washington DC, Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia, North Carolina, Detroit, and Tampa on Sep 18.
“He felt so many people were living that story and yet no one had told it properly,” said Geeta who was equally under parental pressure to get married.
Many a film and media shows “depict arranged marriages and semi-arranged marriages in Indian culture more like a joke – like parents are weird, that kind of thing”.
“We didn’t see it that way. We felt like our parents (married through this ‘desi’ system) were the happiest people we knew,” Geeta said. “We were kind of torn because we wanted that happiness, but we didn’t know what process was really good for us to get there.”
The conversion of the home video into a documentary “just happened by accident,” said Ravi.
“It was just kind of natural evolution” with “Mom and Dad breathing down our necks as if a billion people in India care as much as they do about why we are not married.”
But despite some shaky camera work, they never thought of reshooting the film. “The documentary is so authentic and real, what happened at the moment,” according to them.
“The only stuff that we put a lot of effort was in producing animated moments,” said Ravi.
“The animation came essentially from the fact that we were making this film about our family,” added Geeta.
“In reality TV, when somebody is emotional, they just film it. But for us it’s just disrespectful to film our family going through a very difficult moment.”
But how come their parents did not appear camera conscious at all. “I know that’s crazy, right. It was so natural,” said Ravi.
“Part of it is that they never thought this project would really amount to anything – partially because of the casual way we were shooting it.”
The brother and sister team spent six years in making the film and at the end of it “nobody wanted it.” What kept them going was “Pride,” said Ravi.
“I believed in it. Even if no body watches it, I am going to be proud that I made something I like and that mattered to me.”
“We both believed in it,” chipped in Geeta.
And it was “hard, very hard” working together, said Ravi. “You know with people you love, you tend to be most vulnerable and sometimes the least
respectful and least filtered.”
“Geeta and I have all our crazy fits. But when you are working with your sister you can’t fire her. So you have to find a way to keep it going and make it work.”
“We have to make a commitment,” added Geeta. “As dad says in the movie, life is a commitment.” And after all the fights and disagreements “we have this incredible relationship we would never have dreamt of.”
So what comes next? Are they planning another joint venture on one more desi issue?
“Geeta and I are working on some projects together – some pretty exciting stuff,” said Ravi though he would not say what it was.
“I don’t think I would have chosen to work with her if you had asked me even a year ago,” he said. “But it’s a testament to the story that our family is a million times more together.”
“Geeta and I decided to work together more. Mom and Dad are a part of the company now. My Dad works on this movie 10 hours a day to get every Indian in America marketing this movie.”
“And Mom got every motel owner in America putting up pamphlets. It has become a Patel family business.”