Meet the Patels releases this September 11th and we had the chance to chat with siblings Ravi and Geeta about this hilarious new documentary. The film-making duo created this lively film surrounding their family and about Ravi’s love life. There comes a time when every desi boy and girl needs to get married and this is what happens when your parents get involved.
Nila: First off I would like to congratulate you on an amazing job! The film is absolutely hilarious, while making the documentary did you intentionally add that comic twist? Why not make it a more serious documentary?
Geeta: This is real life, and real life isn’t serious all the time, is it? Our family loves to laugh! With this film, we wanted to entertain just much as we wanted to allow the story to address important themes of love and family.
Ravi: Yeah, we wanted to make something that was fun. Something everyone would enjoy. And I think the fun parts help highlight the more dramatic, heartfelt, parts of the story.
Geeta: A documentary can come in all shapes and forms and can cover all genres. We thought a romantic comedy would be awesome to make.
Ravi: Making a movie that was fun and comedic was the only part of this experience that we correctly predicted.
Nila: In the documentary we can see that this whole film was inspired by a family trip to India, is that true? How did you formulate this concept?
Geeta: I had just bought this new camera and brought it along on our family vacation – I was learning how to use it and thought I’d do a short film on our family’s charity work in the villages. But during this time, the only thing Mom and Dad seemed to be able to discuss was Ravi’s international code red emergency need to get married. So that ended being a lot of the footage.
Ravi: Yeah, and at the same time, I had this idea of making some sort of fun, journalistic documentary – like a Morgan Spurlock or Michael Moore film – about this Indian American complex: wanting love, but also having this cultural norm for our partner to be a specific kind of Patel. That was when I even thought of the working title: One in a Billion.
Geeta: But you had the idea of this subject matter earlier than that.
Ravi: That’s true. About six months or a year prior to this, I was doing stand-up at this 400-person indian lawyers association gig, and I talked about biodatas, and my mom making me cold-call these complete strangers with the same last name who live all over the country. Well, I killed. But I killed in a way where I could feel everyone laughing.. but with deep emotion, you know, from a place of real catharsis. I stopped at one point at and asked everyone “how many of you are single?” Everyone raised their hands! It turns out all these Indian lawyers were actually there to get married. That was when I knew this was something that was not only funny, but important.
Nila: When developing this idea who did you envision as your audience? Did you want to cater to only South Asians or set this internationally?
Ravi: No, we wanted to make a broad, family comedy.
Geeta: This is a film about family and love. Everyone deals with that, right? We spent almost seven years making this film and part of challenge was to tell this story in a way that everyone would enjoy, regardless of their age or creed. Like a My Big Fat Greek Wedding!
Nila: How did you approach your parents with the idea of this documentary? What was their initial reaction?
Ravi: I’m not sure we really asked. I think we may have just said we were experimenting with this idea.
Geeta: Yeah, and the other good news is that they never took us seriously as filmmakers, so they sort of ignored us when we said were making a film. Lucky us?
Nila: Of the two, who was more awkward in front of the camera, mom or dad? Who was more dramatic?
Ravi: You tell me! I think they are both pretty natural. Cinema gold!
Geeta: Yeah, I mean Mom and Dad are getting offered movie roles now. Agents are calling. It’s pretty cool.
Nila: You had segments with interviews of many relatives and friends, did you uncover anything surprising you never knew before?
Ravi: Oh yeah, all sorts of stuff. Facts. Life stuff. Like what makes a good relationship. Fun Patel facts. Read a lot about shiksas. This question is too broad for me!
Geeta: Ha, yeah. I’d also just add that we learned so much about ourselves. I think we can both say, without question, that this filmmaking process made us better people, better people to each other. It’s a film about family that I think, in the process, taught us how to be a family.
Nila: What was the hardest part of making this film?.
Geeta: Working with Ravi.
Ravi: Working with Geeta.
Nila: Did you tell any of the girls that you were set up with about the documentary?
Geeta: We would call them up beforehand and let them know the deal. It was surprising how many of them were cool with it!
Ravi: I stayed out of it mostly, to keep the “integrity” of the dates intact.
Nila: Geeta, Why didn’t you include any of the dates that you were set up on?
Geeta: Well, first off, I didn’t want to be in the movie at all.
Ravi: Yeah, she didn’t want to be in it even as much as she is in it now. But also, this story wasn’t about her dates. She has some funny stories though!
Geeta: Yeah, one time a guy showed up to our first date with his whole family!
Nila: The use of cartoons to narrate the story was quite clever, why did you decide to do that instead of face the camera yourself?
Geeta: It started as necessity. We knew we didn’t want to put the camera in mom and dad’s faces during these kinda big moments that were critical to the documenatry Just as their kids, we felt that was sleezy. But as directors, we needed to tell those plot points.
Ravi: So we wanted to come up with ways to tell those stories in a way that hopefully felt stronger than if you saw them. Geeta and I are big fans of radio, and we think it’s ironic how visual good storytelling can be on radio. American Splendor was also a big inspiration. We eventually landed on this gritty, half-drawn animation, as it tended to hold the visceral through-line of the homemade feel between verite scenes. It took forever to get it right!
Nila: Why was Geeta always behind the camera? We would have loved to see more of her!
Geeta: I didn’t want to be on camera!
Ravi: I wanted more Geeta! But honestly, I have over time come to love how we slowly reveal her character and the irony of how this character hiding behind the camera is going through things even worse.
Nila: If you could make the documentary again what is one thing you would change or do differently?
Ravi: Well, I’m so grateful, doubt I would change much. Maybe I’d make the animation a bit grittier.
Geeta: Yes, same.
Nila: There were a lot of familiar faces in the documentary as well, how did you get them involved?
Geeta: so many friends and family really trusted us. Everyone was willing to help in a million ways, on camera or off. It’s been truly humbling.
Ravi: Yeah, the support has been incredible. People we don’t even know doing so much on our behalf. I can’t even put into words what this much kindness feels like.
Nila: The real question we’re sure everyone wants to know, how much of it was REAL! Was there anything you changed?
Ravi: Ha, no it’s real. That’s unfortunately my real life.
Geeta: Yeah, I mean the only thing we really “worked” on were the animated parts, because we wanted them to be tight and have a rhythm.
Nila: Is Geeta still looking for love? Is Ravi still with his girlfriend?
Geeta: This would give away the end of the film!
Ravi: Haha, nice try!
Nila: What do you hope to achieve with this film?
Ravi: I’ve already achieved it. I’m so proud that we could do this together, and it changed our lives as a family.
Geeta: Agreed. We hope that people watch it, enjoy it, and hopefully it does the same things for their families as it did ours.
Keep it locked for more updates and be sure to tune in for Ravi Patel’s Urban Asian Takeover! We’re also giving away tickets to see a special screening of the film in New York City so check out our Facebook page to find out how to win! Don’t forget to check out Meet the Patels September 11th at a theater near you!