Monday, September 21, 2015

Meet the Patels [2015]

MPAA (PG)  ChiTrib/Variety (3 Stars) (3 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing

ChiTribune/Variety (A. Barker) review (O. Henderson) review
AVClub (T. Robinson) review

Meet the Patels [2015] (codirected and cowritten by Geeta Patel and her bother Ravi Patel, with additional writing credits given to Matthew Homachek and Billy McMillian) is a _kind-hearted_ and well-crafted comedic documentary about late-20 something American born-and-raised Ravi Patel's quite sincere attempt to please his kind (but increasing, ahem, "concerned" ;-) Indian immigrant parents and "just find a nice Indian girl" (and preferably _another_ Patel ;-) to marry. 

Wait a minute, "another Patel?"  Wouldn't that be a bit strange?  No not really.  Ravi explains that "Patel" is like "Smith", and there's an entire state in India -- Gujarat -- where pretty much _everyone's_ last name is Patel.  And further, to avoid too much consanguinity, there are "rules":  If you're a Patel whose family descends from "this or that" part of Gujarat, you look for / marry someone from another part of Gujarat ("across the river," say ...). 

THIS MAKES SURPRISING SENSE TO ME.  My dad's family (actually, more specifically, my paternal grandmother's family) originates from a small village in south-central Bohemia.  Now thanks to Hitler's Nazi-era race policies, during Nazi occupation, all Czechs (and really everyone "in the Reich" or under occupation, the Nazis preferring to call their occupation of the Czechlands a "Protectorate" ... but "I digress" ;-) had to document their ancestry back five generations.  Well, among what we discovered, (IMHO quite amusingly ;-) was that NEVER did any of my ancestors "marry from the same village."  It was always that one married someone from "across the hill" in the next village or even two-or-three villages down.   So even if one's general horizons were limited back then to perhaps a 20 mile radius from where one was born (remember, one's talking about "regular village folk" in the 1800s or even late 1700s), the gene pool remained quite mixed. 

So that's what the (arguably) _nation_ of Patels basically do in the Bohemia-sized Indian state of Gujarat ;-)

Now, of course, there are specific cultural particularities at work as well.  The Patel "family" is large enough in number to be a small nation, and yet it is definitely _more familial_ than simply a nation.  To illustrate the point, Ravi shares with viewers the story about how when he was young, his (immedtiate) family (mom, dad, sister Geeta and he) were driving on a vacation in the United States, and at the end of the day they stopped at an Indian, PATEL-run motel somewhere in (say) "Tennessee." 

Well since the Ravi's family were Patels and the motel was run by OTHER PATELS, their one night stay included being invited over the the motel-running Patels' living quarters, sharing, indeed cooking a meal together and spending the rest of the evening exchanging stories in a manner that one would share with well, "one's cousins."  FOR EVEN THOUGH THEY HAD NEVER MET EACH OTHER BEFORE (or quite possibly since) THEY WERE FAMILY FOR AT LEAST THAT ONE NIGHT.  And to the outsider it would have seemed that the very purpose of Ravi's family's travel through Tennessee was precisely to visit that other Patel family (who they had not met before the trip) at whose model they stayed.  The story describes a remarkably closeness that certainly stretches the bounds of most Westerners' conceptions of even extended family!

And so this is then the kind of _nice_ familial "magic" that American born-and-raised, but Indian indeed Patel-descended Ravi had difficulty letting-go of. 

To many Americans, the quaintness of "ways of the past" may be difficult to fathom.  But if one's born into it, experienced it, and one does appreciate some of the beauty of it, it is hard to let go of, and _certainly_ one does not want to let go of it all.

So this then is the story of Ravi, again American-born-and-raised, trying _really hard_ not to disappoint his parents, while at the same time recognizing that he's not living (for the most part) in India anymore (though the family does go to visit) or, for that matter, in more "traditional times."  How does one negotiate the current with the past, respecting and indeed _loving_ both?

Great film!

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