Masters of None Fans: Now Stream Meet the Patels

By  · Published on January 15th, 2016


One of the best episodes of Masters of None is “Indians on TV,” where Dev (Aziz Ansari) and his friend Ravi (Ravi Patel) address the limited and stereotypical roles available to them as Indian actors. Now joining that show on Netflix Watch Instantly this week is Meet the Patels, one of last year’s top-grossing (yet still seemingly little-known) documentaries, which is co-directed and stars Patel. The film similarly focuses on cultural issues for second-generation Indian Americans, specifically in the realm of dating and arranged marriage, and it’s worth a look for fans of the hit series.

Meet the Patels is a documentary, but it was sold as and can be viewed more as a rom-com. It’s one of the rare nonfiction love stories out there – perfect for Valentine’s Day streaming in a month, if you want to wait – and somewhat resembles the standard of the subgenre, Ross McElwee’s classic Sherman’s March (which is also on Netflix Watch Instantly). Patel, who made the doc with his sister Geeta, leads in a first-person manner and, with her behind the camera, chronicles the story of a bad break-up that leads to a wide, global search for a mate. He had been secretly seeing a white girl for two years and is now, in anticipation of turning 30, ready to let his parents go the traditional matchmaking route.

Common as this narrative is for Indian-American characters, almost as cliche as casting them as cab drivers and doctors, Meet the Patels has a lot of charm and of course a foundation in reality that keep it engaging. It’s very funny for the many seemingly absurd aspects of the quest and family back story – his match has to also have the last name Patel, they are united through the compatibility of their well-circulated and CV-like biodata documents, there’s a kind of secret society of Indian motel owners in the US. Patel also appeals to an audience familiar with Hollywood romance staples, referencing them as having clashed with his upbringing and the customs of his family. Throughout the film, though mostly in the beginning, we see interviews with couples who talk about their getting together, similar to the fake documentary bits from When Harry Met Sally, and the comparison is surely intentional.

If there are any shortcomings with the film being a documentary, they’re in the section where Patel goes on dates with women he’s been set up with or met online through one of the many Indian-themed matching sites. Understandably, most of the women are censored, even if they’re aware they’re being filmed (usually the dates are shot clandestinely by Geeta from afar), to protect their privacy. And if there were any real-life comedic moments on these dates, like what we’d see in a fictional rom-com to show the many second-act romantic disasters in the journey to find true love, it would be mean to include anything that made fun of those actual people. Meet the Patels does feature animation for reenactments of other undocumented scenes, and that device could have easily been employed for some of the bad dating examples, but again that could be too cruel.

The documentary is being remade as a narrative rom-com, of course, and presumably the Patel siblings, who are on board to write and direct it, will add in some exaggerated dating scenes for bigger laughs. Still, the original film is the way to go because no actors can do justice to the Patels’ adorable parents, who are also far more complex than a scripted version would allow for (perhaps they could just cast the real deal, like Ansari did for Masters of None?). Besides, the whole story is already here for your entertainment. It’s more told than shown in parts, much of that because it’s also a film that presents and explains how today’s evolved Indian coupling methods differ from what we generally think of as the antiquated concept of arranged marriage. It’s not essential viewing. By the end, though, you’ll have enjoyed it on the level of any Hollywood fluff.

Watch a trailer for the doc below, and head over to stream the whole movie here.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.