Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 28 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 0; Language 2; Sex /Nudity 3.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
After watching so many serious (and admittedly excellent) documentaries in the past few months it was enjoyable to come across this scripted one about an almost 30-year old man’s search for “a capable wife.” Although it is very particular as to its Indian-American context, its theme of longing and searching are so universal that virtually everyone can identify with its beleaguered protagonist. The film is a scripted documentary in that its protagonist Ravi Patel is also the co-director with his sister Geeta—and she is also the cinematographer. They travel not only back and forth between their American and the Indian cultures, but also geographically, from their home in Los Angeles to India, and then back to various stopovers in cities across the USA.
The film begins with a delightful cartoon version of Ravi (animated by Jim Richardson) speaking to the camera and informing us of his earlier life. A first generation Indian-American, he reveals that he has just broken up with Audrey, his white girlfriend, a person whom he had never introduced, or even mentioned, to his traditionalist parents.
Ravi’s father Vasant has been a success in business, so he likes to say, “Look at me now,” but worst, as far as the nearly 30 year-old Ravi is concerned, “Not getting married is the biggest loser you can be.” His quick-tongued mother Champa agrees, and well she would in that she is a widely respected matchmaker in her home village. Very much in love with each other after a 35-year arranged marriage that was agreed to after just one 10-minute meeting, they explain, “Some people date and get married; we did it the opposite.” Thus they want Ravi to give the traditional Indian method for finding a bride a try.
He agrees, realizing that he has arrived at the age when he should be settling down and starting a family. There follows a series of meetings with prospective brides that are sometimes funny and often colorful, the latter especially when the family travels together back to their homeland in Gujarat India. I once thought that the Jones or the Smiths must be the world’s largest families, but it turns out that Patels hold that honor. They started out in a 50-square-mile radius in Gujurat province but now Patels have emigrated to countries throughout the world. It is from this clan that his parents intend for him to pick a mate. Scattered throughout the episodes in India and sojourns in a number of American cities are more brief cartoon inserts that add much to the fun of the proceedings.
The American side of Ravi says, “It’s pathetic to have your mom and dad set you up,” but he goes along with an endless series of organized group encounters involving speed dating (at a large Patel Matrimonial Convention held each year—yes, there are that many Patels!), weddings, and such, wherever he might meet an eligible young woman. Even before that the family had worked up a system they call “bio-dating” that involves families exchanging comprehensive resumes of the young man and woman. Phone calls are made when Ravi reads the paper and likes the attached photo, and the two are brought together, usually at a restaurant where they exchange views and sum each other up. There are also Indian marriage websites, showing that Indians are trying to adapt their ancient traditions to the modern world.
The photography includes some crude camcorder footage when Geeta was learning how to use a camera to sophisticated, non-jerky, clear-focused film shots. It looks and sounds like the brother-sister had a good time putting all the different kinds of tape/film together. You will too as it unfolds to a conclusion that you probably can see coming, but this will not matter. The fun is in getting to it. There are no cosmic issues in this immigrant family tale, but viewers will learn the old lesson that though cultures differ, families bound by love and respect will be able to go through unsettling changes and emerge stronger than ever.
This film with a set of discussion questions will be in the Nov. 2015 issue of VP.