Meet the Patels: Exclusive Interview with Geeta Patel
Meet the Patels is an American romantic comedy documentary directed by siblings Geeta and Ravi Patel that explores the expectations surrounding marriage between a first-generation Indian immigrant family in a wider American society (courtesy of Wikipedia).
Wikipedia’s definition is true but stale. Wikipedia doesn’t really know what it’s like to grow up as a South Asian American. Waddling between two cultures and trying to co-exist to meet demands from two cultures that can, at times, juxtapose like oil and water. Meet the Patels is layered, raw, real, and touching. You also don’t need to be South Asian or Indian to even watch this film, this documentary will resonate to you when you least expect it.
Before Meet the Patels, Geeta has already accumulated an impressive resume. In 2008 she directed the widely acclaimed Project Kashmir, and has written for The Fast and The Furious in 2001. Recently, she directed an episode of The Mindy Project and she continues to serve as unit director for the show Sense8. Hollywood is competitive and Geeta Patel has paved her way, in a profound way, by weaving in Indian American experiences into American movie screens–nationwide.
I was really lucky enough to snag an interview with Geeta. She’s someone I admire and I hope other women in the media field learn from her in making it in Hollywood.
Sherryn: What got you into directing? What’s your secret for being in the Hollywood business for 15+ years?
Geeta: Since I was a kid, I’ve loved stories and music and movement. When I started as an assistant over 15 years ago, I had no idea which job I was interested in or qualified to do. I just kept following my bliss and it was a long road that led into directing in a very unexpected way. My secret is focus on being thankful for every single moment of the experience and doing my best. I have learned to let go of fear and expectations and simply enjoy the freedom to actually tell stories whether I am getting paid to do it or not.
Sherryn: Which directors inspire you? Do you have any favorites? Can we see any of their influence in your recent or previous work?
Geeta: Anthony Minghella was a great inspiration, as was Sydney Pollack. They both had such an effervescence, such independent voices. They were very brave in their storytelling. It’s the passionate storytelling perhaps that moves me, and the equal parts comedy and drama. With Anthony, I had the honor of spending time with him, and I was inspired by his approach to directing and working with his crew through kindness. I really believe in being kind and loving as a director, and in any part of life. It’s not easy, nor does it come naturally in difficult moments, however it’s the only way to achieve true success, in my opinion.
I also love the way Anthony incorporates music and gorgeous verse into his films… The English Patient was the film that knocked me out and made me want to work in film. I love Almodovar as well. The rich culture and intimacy in his films.. the meandering and yet perfectly structured musicality to his stories. Mira Nair and Satyijat Ray blow my mind.. The seemingly verite quality of their films.
I also love specific films like Salaam Bombay, Rome Open City, Battle of Algiers, Pan’s Labyrinth, Year of Living Dangerously, Out of Africa, Devi, Angst Essen Seele Auf, Baz Luhrman’s Romeo and Juliet, Bicycle Thief, Funny Girl, When Harry Met Sally, Before Sunrise, Braveheart, Pretty Woman (Come on, let’s be honest. It’s the best)…. I’m sure I’m forgetting some… All my work comes from my heart, for better or worse, and this quality is very much inspired by these films and filmmakers.
Sherryn: For “Meet the Patels” why didn’t you appear onscreen? What inspired you to film scenes in an impromptu, casual, style?
Geeta: I never wanted to make the film, let alone be in it! My brother made me do it and once I started filming, I realized the film needed to be made. The inspiration for the film was the actual subject and story, and my amazing, magical brother.
Sherryn: Congrats on “Meet the Patels” being made to a feature length movie. Is there any information on this that we should know about?
Geeta: Well, at the moment, we’re writing the script. I can tell you that we have spent more time snacking and making tea than writing…. #thepatelprocess #onehitwonder
Sherryn: What was it like directing for “The Mindy Project”? How did it happen? What was it like working with Mindy Kaling?
Geeta: I absolutely loved directing on the Mindy Project. In general, I love working in comedy! I get paid to laugh all day. The crew and producers and actors were so dedicated and talented. I got the job through my agents, Lauren Fox and Kosha Shah at UTA, and the greatest gift was working with Mindy. She’s hella talented, works so hard, and has built a beautiful show and team.
Sherryn: As a South Asian woman in Hollywood who is also a trailblazer in the indie documentary scene, what inspired you to make “Meet the Patels“? Are there fellow South Asians in Hollywood that you look up to?
Geeta: Michael Moore and Ross Kauffman are big inspirations. but please don’t tell them. Wouldn’t want them to get cocky. Both are now close friends and I love that I can call and text and email constantly and ask them stupid questions.. bahahha! As far as fellow South Asians, there are so many, though I don’t think there is one particular individual who sticks out. I honestly admire any documentary filmmaker, as the job is so tough, and the life is even more tough. And yet, there is nothing like the experience and nuance of making a documentary.
Sherryn: Has the movie’s popularity made dating easier for you? I know that dating and marriage are huge themes in “Meet thePatels“. Although much of the movie focused on your brother, dating hasn’t been portrayed as an easier experience for you?
Geeta: Wait, does dating ever get easy? If it got easy, I think that would be a problem, don’t you think? Am I over-thinking this question?
Sherryn: What would be your dream project in the future? Who would be in your dream cast? What type of movie/tv show/etc would be it be?
Geeta: One dream project is the film I’m working on now called Mouse. My dream cast would be the most amazing actors we can find, preferably non-movie stars. I love action, comedy, drama, everything. It really just depends on the film. I love the projects I’m doing right now. It’s all a dream.
Sherryn: What’s your favorite and least favorite aspects of being behind the camera?
Geeta: The camera is SO HEAVY. I hate carrying it. That being said, I love operating the camera because it feels like I’m dancing with the story I’m following. It’s awesome.
Sherryn: How much of “Meet the Patels” did we not see on screen? Is there something interesting you would like to share?
Geeta: Oh man, you saw everything. There were scenes we cut out, however I think you got the big-picture.
Sherryn: What are you currently reading? What have you recently binge-watched on Netflix?
Geeta: Right now, I’m reading a book about Spirituality that my dad gave me. As far as Netflix, I just watched Ali Wong’s stand-up show. She’s so talented!
Sherryn: What’s your favorite Indian dish to eat or cook? Is there a particular dish you wish you can make?
Geeta: I love palak paneer. Let me repeat: I LOVE PALAK PANEER. As for cooking, Okra is my go-to because it turns out edible and allows me to pull off a dinner party or two before people catch on.
Sherryn: What do you see yourself doing in the next 5 years?
Geeta: I see myself being happy, close to my family and friends, loving every moment of this life. That’s all I care about. You know what I mean?
Sherryn: How can fans connect with you online? Do you use Twitter, Instragram or Facebook?
Geeta: My name on Twitter and Instagram is geetavpatel.
Have you seen Meet the Patels and could relate to the documentary? Are you new into the Hollywood scene and want to offer any advice to new starlets/ directors? Please share your thoughts and feelings!