Neel Upadhye’s debut film is about universal challenges of being in love

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Michael is Jewish and Daisy is a Protestant. Their love story is captured by Indian-American writer and director Neel Upadhye in “Dating Daisy,” a film about the honest and crazy truth about dating in your twenties.

Upadhye, 30, told Desi Talk, he drew upon his own experiences of relationships and breakups, to write and direct this delightful but far from superficial, romantic comedy that has no heroes and villains. “Real love needs no embellishment. After all, falling in (and out) of love is already life’s most perilous adventure,” Upadhye says. For 89 minutes, the story follows Michael and Daisy, two exes who decide to do a road trip home together for the holidays and get caught up in their crazy past.

“I didn’t make it (the movie) to chase a saturated trend in the market. I made it because I believe audiences will see themselves in these characters, and learn something about their own journey to find love,” Upadhye says. “Two people who love each other, can’t quit, but don’t know how to make it work – how to balance career with the relationship. It’s a mess,” he told Desk Talk. The film is being screened at the Phoenix Film Festival three days running April 8, 9, and 10. It took Upadhye two years or so from writing to completing the film, “And now we’re on the journey of film festivals and finding distributors,” he said.

The movie proves yet again how every generation of Indian immigrants is breaking new ground or expanding the path others have tread before. From M. Night Shyamalan’s intense thrillers and horror films, to millennials like comedian Aziz Ansari and his Netflix series, “Master of None,” and Mindy Kaling’s sitcom, “The Mindy Project,” show business is a major destination for Indian-Americans attempting to break down ethnic barriers.

The film about the on-again, off-again relationship has an interesting structure, Upadhye points out. For most of the film, the two protagonists are apart, which is not typical. “But that helps us see the dynamics of their homes, how different these families are and yet how similar.”

That middle segment of the film Upadhye says, is “very much” influenced by his Indian upbringing. “For Indians, families are very important, and Jewish and Indian families have very much in common. That’s definitely a window through which my Indian-ness plays out,” he adds.

Making the movie was a therapy, one that has brought him “to a really good place” he says. In writing the story he had to relate to where he was coming from but also envision where his partners in life came from. “I was at a disadvantage as a guy to shape the female character,” he admits. Consequently, focus groups and test screenings were held with women. “We got lots of amazing feedback. We had to edit parts and shoot new scenes,” he said.

Dating Daisy has already received some positive reviews. “Kelleher and Alexander’s performances are outstanding with perceptive direction and writing from Neel Upadhye. You’ll feel yourself pulled into their lives as you relive your own,” the Chicago Independent Film Critics’ Circle said in its review.
Born in Ahmedabad to a Gujarati father and Maharashtrian mother, Upadhye came to this country when he was five, and recognized early that he loved the performing arts. Indian cultural and family influences ruled. Upadhye attended Bal Vikas and Maharashtra Mandals regularly. But he was attracted to a genre far from that environment — choral classical music. “Something about Western choral music appealed to me – the fact that it’s highly collaborate.” While Indian classical is solo, with extreme depth, Upadhye says, “Choral is so much about harmony, and broad, and about how many people could produce a sound no single person could,” he told Desi Talk. He became part of professional choirs and performed Mozart in famous concert halls.

Meanwhile, as the son of a software engineer, he says, his father Yogen Upadhye shared with him a great love of technology. “I realized around my sophomore year, that I was using computer science for storytelling.”

Upadhye graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He is a film and commercial director with a background in live action, visual effects, and several diverse genres. He has created TV spots and trailers for several critically acclaimed video games including EA’s “Mass Effect 3” and “Battlefield 4,” and is currently the Brand Creative Lead on the upcoming “Star Wars Battlefront.”

He is the co-creator of the TV pilot “Shark Bites” which sold to Disney Television Animation in 2014. In addition to directing, Neel edited the film “Jay & Seth vs. The Apocalypse” (starring Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel) which sold to Columbia Pictures and released as “This Is The End” in 2013. His films include official selections at festivals such as the Palm Springs ShortFest, the Las Vegas Film Festival, the San Diego Film Festival, the Berlin East-West Competition, among others. As a writer, “Dating Daisy” marks Neel’s fourth feature length screenplay, but his first feature film.