A few nights ago my wife Sandy and I went for the umpteenth time to the Ambler Theater, an art house cinema in the Philadelphia suburbs that I’ve praised often on this website. We were accompanied by our excellent pals, Cindy and Gene. They are Philadelphians understandably loathe to drive to the burbs, or anywhere, for fear of the nightmare that sometimes awaits them hours later when they return to their congested neighborhood and attempt to find a parking space. I hope they are not still circling their surrounding blocks these several days later. If they are . . . well, that’ll learn ’em.
The movie we went to see was Meet The Patels. It is a delightful concoction, a documentary so breezy and cheerily assembled that I urge all of good spirit to take it in. For those not of good spirit, watching it maybe will help them find a better path in life.
Nonetheless, I left the Ambler Theater not at all sure if I would comment online about Meet The Patels. Sure, I enjoyed the documentary very much. Sure, it’s worth writing about. But: 1) Hundreds of reviews of this movie already have been penned. 2) I didn’t seem to have any wondrous insights to disseminate. 3) Etc.
On the other hand, my blog is a voracious master, compelling me to keep it fed.
Fresh out of ideas and inspiration, I sauntered into Randazzo’s Pizzeria the day after watching Meet The Patels. It’s a decent joint a mile or two from my abode. As I waited for my pizza slices to heat in the oven I took a look at one of the walls. It was covered with knick-knacks and photographs. One of the knick-knacks caught my attention and got me thinking. It was a depiction of an Italian chef standing next to a chalkboard on which were written very sage and pithy statements: “A pinch of patience; a dash of kindness; a spoonful of laughter; and a heap of love.”
Those are words not to be taken lightly. They truly are meaningful. They are a good recipe for life. And they illuminate what, to me, Meet The Patels is all about.
And thus a pizzeria inspired me to sit down and type this report. Meet The Patels concerns a family of four, the Patels. Natch. Husband and wife, India-born Vasant and Champa, moved to the States decades ago for better opportunities than they saw available at home. They became accustomed to the American Way, but hung on strongly to their native customs and values. Stateside they produced two children, Geeta and then Ravi. Now young adults, the siblings are highly Americanized, yet cognizant and appreciative of the Asian culture that undeniably runs through their veins.
All four Patels, as best I could tell, reside in California. Mr. and Mrs. P occupy a roomy home. Geeta and Ravi, touchingly, share a comfortable apartment. How many adult siblings live together? Few, by my experience. In this documentary, Geeta and Ravi seem to pull it off easily.
On to the plot. Meet The Patels spins the tale of Ravi’s search for a wife. Having recently broken up, after a two year romance, with a white girl named Audrey, 29-year-old Ravi somewhat reluctantly agrees to allow his parents to try and find a suitable match for him. Only thing is that Mom and Dad never knew about Audrey. Ravi was too embarrassed ever to tell them that he had dated a female of the non-Indian-American persuasion. Mom and Dad, successful products of an arranged marriage — arranged being the norm in India — were under the impression that their 29-year-old son was kind of a relationship tyro. And that his unstated goal was to settle down with someone who shared his ethnic background. Coolly they convince Ravi to allow them to employ slightly updated versions of traditional Indian matchmaking methods to identify and locate a mate for him. Said mate is to come from the large pool of well-educated and fine-tempered Indian-American and Indian females that Ravi’s parents are confident exists. Let the games begin.
Meet The Patels is a movie that originally wasn’t meant to be a movie. As a lark, Geeta began filming Ravi’s wife-seeking adventures. After a while she and Ravi realized that fun and wisdom were to be found in the raw footage. Light bulbs went off in their heads and a project was born. They are credited as Meet the Patels’ directors, and along with two others as the writers. The movie doesn’t mention this, but it turns out that the story and filming took place about seven years ago, after which various snags held things up big time. Last year, finally, the movie was completed and became a darling of the film festival circuit. It’s playing now in a modest number of theaters. Ravi was an actor landing a handful of movie and TV roles while Meet The Patels was filming. These days he is a pretty big presence on the small screen. He’s currently in two series, Grandfathered and Master Of None
Meet The Patels moves fast and furious, Geeta handling most of the camerawork in an engagingly amateurish home movie mode (she claims she never learned how to operate her camera, or frame scenes, properly). The film intersperses animated sequences, scripted and nimble, to explain and give oomph to the plot. The plot doesn’t require more elucidation from me. No spoiler alerts here. What really matters are the lessons about human behavior and relationships to be gained from the flick (and from the Italian chef’s chalkboard). To wit, the four principles in Meet the Patels are endearing, warm and loving. They respect each other and get along famously. They are open (excepting Ravi’s concealment from Mom and Dad of Audrey’s place in his life, but we’ll forgive him that) and open to change. They smile a lot, laugh a lot. These are folks you’d want to be friends with.
Sandy, Cindy, Gene and I all left the theater feeling good. Amen.
(Photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. If you click on a photo, a larger image will open)
(If you enjoyed this article, then please don’t be shy about sharing it)