FF2 chats with with Geeta V. Patel, Ravi V. Patel and Vasant K. Patel
To read FF2 Media’s review of the Meet the Patels, click HERE.
Writer/Director Geeta V. Patel always wanted to be a storyteller. After graduating from Duke University with a concentration in Comparative Area Studies, her future in finance could not have been further from her heart’s desire.
Sitting in the Music Box Lounge on the north side of Chicago to promote their documentary Meet the Patels, Geeta and her family (father Vasant K. Patel, brother Ravi V. Patel) recall their entrance into the risky world of show business.
Below is an edited transcript of their conversation with FF2 Media’s Associate Editor Brigid K. Presecky.
Geeta: Coming from a conservative Indian family, at the time, my dad and mom had come from villages and they both had built so much to give us an education. It was a very important, heavy decision to leave this college education and kind of risk it in the arts. No one promises you that if you get a degree, you get a job. It’s so risky. After I graduated college, I went to New York and I took a business job in finance. For those two years I was miserable. I remember, at some point, my dad was like, “You’re just not happy. I want you to smile. I want you to be happy. What’s it gonna take?” I was like, “Well, duh! I want to go to LA. I want to go be in film.” He said, “Please, just go.” I took it very seriously when I got to LA. I worked very hard.
Vasant: She had a great paying job in New York. A great career. Two years rolled around, she flew from New York to LA and I asked, “Where are you gonna stay?” She said, “Oh, I will roommate with a guy” and I said, “No. You don’t stay with a guy!” [Laughs] She said, “I cannot afford it” and I said, “Yeah, but I can.”
Geeta: That’s the thing. They love me so much that even though they didn’t agree with what I was doing, they of course supported it.
Hard work paid off for Geeta, even if it meant getting coffee and working as a writer’s assistant for four years. It paved the way for Geeta to become an associate screenwriter on Fast and the Furious and Blue Crush before making her own documentary for PBS, Project Kashmir, a war-centered film which took her seven years to complete.
On a family trip to India, her brother Ravi (whose comedic talents earned him acting gigs soon after he arrived in Los Angeles) had an idea – Meet the Patels – a documentary following their family on his search for a traditional Indian wife.
Geeta: Ravi had just done a speaking gig for a bunch of Indians and talked about the whole story of “bio datas,” matchmaking, our family and the story you see in the film. They all started laughing, of course, because he’s cracking jokes, and he came to me and said, “You know, they’re laughing in a way like it’s cathartic. Like, laughing-so-hard-that-it-heals kind of thing.”
Ravi: Well, they were all at this thing because they were single, it turns out. That’s the only reason 500 Indian lawyers would go to a convention together. They were going through the same thing. They were jumping through hoops to do it the way their parents did.
Geeta: So, [Ravi] was like, “You know, Geeta, I feel like I need to do something. I want to make a Morgan Spurlock/Michael Moore journalistic film. It will take like a year.” I had just gotten out of seven years and sold my car to finish my last film. I was like “No. Listen, you do that …”
Ravi: It was a Toyota Corolla. It was like a USED Corolla. She wasn’t like, walking around with a ton of money after. [Laughs]
Ravi: It extended her, like, two more weeks.
Geeta: That’s hilarious, Ravi. You’re so funny.
Geeta: So, basically, I didn’t want to do it. [Ravi] said, “I think this is a story that needs to be told.” So, we ended up starting to make it and what we thought was going to be journalistic, clearly, as we were having so much fun the camera and seeing all these things about our relationship and our family, we started having these visions of a film that was something different. It took six years to make this film, because we had to figure out how to fulfill that vision. We both had the exact same vision, as far as what you see now, but we made every mistake possible to get there. Mistake after mistake, we just kept getting back up and trying something new. Finally, after six years, we had it.
Geeta and Ravi wrangled together a team of professional editors, each lending their own talents to the unique, cartoon-like documentary. With editors Jeremiah Zagar, Matthew Hamachek, Billy McMillin and Dhevi Natarajan, Meet the Patels coincided with the Patels’ vision of a comedic, heartwarming documentary – one that the Patel family is proud of.
Geeta: We survived. You know, the interesting thing about a documentary is that it’s real life. It’s not like we created a story, we just happened to have a camera on while this was going on. So, I think we’re all really thankful for the relationships that we got out of this experience and it has nothing to do with the film.
Vasant: The single thing that I see? [Ravi and Geeta] have come so close to each other and came to respect each other’s plan and talents. I am so grateful for that. I think that is the biggest result that I really appreciate. Whether the film does good or bad or not, it’s really not a big issue. I see a lot of maturity and a lot of respect. For parents, when siblings want to [work together again], that is just a joy.
Ravi: It’s a life-changing experience on every level. I feel like I’ve learned what art is to me and what kind of function I want it to play in my life.
Vasant: [To Ravi] You’ve personally grown quite a bit.
Ravi: I feel like I’ve found my voice as a filmmaker. I even feel like it’s helped me as an actor because I understand myself better in so many ways as a result of this process. Everything to do with filmmaking, I owe to this thing.
In my personal life, it was the most intensely introspective process a person can put themselves through. In addition, to be a co-director on it, I saw myself from this third-party lens that gave me an even deeper perspective. It’s changed me, it’s changed our family. Even the experience of distributing this film together, where we’re going around from festival to festival, and Mom is calling me at 11 o’clock at night saying, “Dad’s out partying again!”
Ravi: And I see pictures on Facebook of Dad drinking red wine with a bunch of people who are all clearly laughing at his jokes … It’s been an amazing, kind of magical, once-in-a-lifetime thing. I could not have scripted this any better.
Meet the Patels is now playing in select theaters.
To read FF2 Media’s review of the film, click HERE.
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Alchemy