Sunday Review: Meet the Patels

By: - September 8, 2019

If you’ve ever been single, ever been embarrassed by the interestingly ethnic counsel of your parents regarding your singleton status, and/or have children of your own who are single, then 2015’s “Meet the Patels” on Amazon Prime (at least that’s where I saw it) might meet your standards for great entertainment. It met mine.

The story follows two American-born children of an Indian immigrant family. The family, by hard work and conservative social values, has done very well in the U.S. The kids, a boy and a girl both about thirty, are normal American singles. Which means they have been dating people for about twelve years and are both still unattached. The daughter, Geeta Patel, is the writer and director of the film. She does an excellent job. The son, Ravi Patel, is an up and coming actor. He is amusing. The family lives in L.A.

To reveal my prejudice up front, I think India and the Indians are megacool. The food is my second fave (after southern U.S. barbeque), their former British colonial status works with my anglophilia, Bollywood is fun, and the women are super cute. All this in a traditional culture with a thriving capitalist democracy thrown in.

What’s not to like?

Well, that thing would be, for some, the remedy of the Indian born and raised parents for the singleton status, and thus lack of grandchildren, of their son and daughter: arranged marriage. The parents figure, as trusting their own parents in that regard worked for them, it could work to find spouses for their thoroughly star-spangled children as well.

The kids are duly horrified.

They exclaim they are not going to be treated like chattel while the set of weird gibbering subcontinental-raised oldsters, who comprise the Indian matchmaker class, decide their lives. Geeta and Ravi are initially quite imbued with the spirit of Western romantic love as they seek out their respective mates. They just haven’t met the right person yet, they say, and thus an arranged marriage is anathema to them. That is, until they see the data.

The numbers illuminate that the path towards the altar taken by their parents and their parent’s parents has a decidedly lower divorce rate than the current U.S. rate. Now that can be attributed no doubt in some sense to the rigid social conservatism of Indian society. However, that’s likely not the only reason.

As the film’s interviews of longtime arranged couples show, there is something unique and subtly poignant about the way two young people, many who have hardly met before their parents arranged their nuptials, fall and stay in love by the continual act of discovery. As they grew to love each other and raise a family, there wasn’t omnipresent this American sense of grand passion and its inevitable waning. The bitterness inherent in that dissipation leads in many cases to a concept of almost disposable marriage in our society and thus an ease of divorce.

After much struggle the kids finally accede to their parents wishes in a modified and time-limited plan. Though, there is something the parents don’t know about the son.

No, not that.

But it’s a revelation that makes the situation much more complicated and lends a pathos to his quest for a bride.

I won’t spoil it for you by going too far into the story. Leave it to be said that there are many hilariously cringeworthy moments when the parents mortify their children. For us parents that part of the film is total fun, as those kind of moments are guilty pleasures for many of us.

I also conducted an informal phone poll on the film with my fellow over-fifty pals. I asked them whether our parents could have picked better for us than we ourselves did and whether we as parents could choose better for our kids than they themselves would.

The first question was split about even. The second question was 99 percent yes with one holdout: me. My second son’s wife is lovely and charming. He chose wisely. My other five kids? The jury is still out.

Though the larger question is would most modern individualistic, some would say spoiled, young Western bachelors and bachelorettes consider a marriage arranged by their parents? Even after over a decade of disappointment in the matrimonial market could they contemplate taking part in an ancient ritual borne of a culturally ultratraditional, not to mention collective, society?

The answer is probably no.

For all those single thirtysomethings out there, pity.