Meet the Patels, a real life romantic comedy, is one of our favorite documentaries of recent memory. Directed and produced by North Carolina natives and first generation Indian-Americans Ravi and Geeta Patel (brother and sister), the film documents Ravi's search for a wife while his parents pressure him to marry an Indian woman. With humor and warmth, Ravi grapples with social pressure and his feelings for a non-Indian woman. Heart-warming, thought-provoking and funny, the film was met with great critical reception. Variety described it as "riotously funny” and Hollywood Reporter characterized it as a “tremendous crowd-pleaser.” Watch carefully, and you’ll see much of the film was shot in Charlotte, NC, where Ravi and Geeta grew up. We caught up with the brother and sister team to talk with them about the film, North Carolina and the future. Here’s what we found out. Want to check it out the movie? It’s now available on Netflix.
Your family moved to Charlotte when you both were in your early teens. Tell us about your childhood there.
Ravi: We grew up in South Charlotte near the Old Providence neighborhood. Geeta went to high school at the North Carolina School of Math and Science, aka The North Carolina School of the Unsociable. I went to Myers Park, which was the coolest school in Charlotte and probably still is. :) She went to Duke, and I went to UNC Chapel Hill. We LOVE NC.
Geeta: Ravi and I both went into finance after college! Neither of us knew we would end up in entertainment, in fact we didn't know they were real things that real people could pursue! I basically always had a love of screenplayers, and I guess I had a romantic dream to one day magically be a writer. While I was miserable in my NYC finance job, I started writing, and then one day I got fed up and came to LA. My first job was as an assistant to a writer, and that was how things started for me. Ravi got discovered as an actor while visiting me.
Meet the Patels is a story about family and navigating different cultural expectations of marriage. A lot of the film was shot in Charlotte, and I wonder what it was like to return to there to film? Did it change the way you understood coming of age in North Carolina?
Geeta: Hmm, that's a good question and I'm not sure I have a good answer. I mean, I guess I would say that our relationship with North Carolina has evolved over time mostly because we've left to go live in other parts of the world. And so both we and Charlotte have changed, and sometimes it feels weird when you come home and home seems unrecognizable.
Geeta, you are a character in the film, but, with the exception of animation, you remain behind the camera until the credits. Ravi, you make yourself very vulnerable! What was the process of creating a film together like? Do any specific anecdotes come to mind when you think about the challenges and joy of working together?
Ravi: Well how do you think it would go making a movie with your sibling? It's tough! We wanted to fire each other many, many times. But we couldn't, and as result we had to learn to love and respect each other more.
Geeta: We always say that regardless of the film's success, the biggest victory on this process was that it made us best friends.
The film industry’s diversity problem has been a big headline this year since the Academy announced its 2016 award nominees, and Ravi you’ve said that felt a responsibility to tell this story. I’d love to hear you and Geeta reflect on that sense of responsibility, and also how your background shapes your approach to work in the industry?
Ravi: For us specifically, we aren't waiting for anything to happen for us. It's too hard of an industry. Too many people want to make it here. So we are busy just working and trying to create our own opportunities. And that is how our background affects our approach. Like our parents, we are hard-working entrepreneurs who will not accept failure. Not for now, at least. :)
Has life changed for your parents since the film has taken off?
Geeta: Um, yeah, they are becoming famous and it's hilarious. They get stopped everywhere they go. People are offering them TV shows. They are just loving it. It's adorable.
What are you working on now?
Geeta: Ravi is on the Fox series Grandfathered, and I'm developing a couple features. Ravi and I are also writing a feature narrative based on Meet the Patels!