Love is a strange phenomenon. What do two young people who love each other but don’t know how to make it work – between balancing career and relationship — but can’t quit either, do? Indian American screenwriter-director Neel Upadhye explores this complexity in love in his debut feature film, “Dating Daisy,” which has been hitting the festival circuit across the country, garnering positive reviews for the young director’s cinematic vision. The film won the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature Comedy at the Sedona International Film Festival.
The indie romantic comedy about the honest and crazy truth of dating in your twenties follows Michael (Brennan Kelleher) and Daisy (Sascha Alexander), two passionate exes who decide to take a road trip home together for the holidays and get caught up in their crazy past.
When writing the screenplay, Upadhye drew upon several of his own experiences of relationships and breakups in his 20s.
“Passions run high in your twenties and I felt that I had a lot to say on the subject matter and so I decided to write a film that kind of captured the highs and lows of my experiences,” Upadhye told India-West by phone from Phoenix, Arizona, where his film was chosen to be screened at the Phoenix Film Festival. “It’s a pretty crazy time in your life when you have to figure out how to balance your relationships versus your career, and getting two people to get their priorities aligned can be pretty challenging.”
Though the 89-minute film on an on-and-off again relationship drama starring a Jewish male lead and a Protestant female lead offered the young filmmaker a chance to showcase diverse heritage and ethnicity, it also helped him maintain a more objective viewpoint. But he stressed that his Indian-ness played out throughout the film.
“The reason I changed the ethnicities was, one, because it’s always interesting to write from another perspective, and I also felt like it helped me to distance myself from the characters and speak more objectively about the situation,” he explained. “My Indian background was just not on the surface but it’s threaded throughout.”
The 30-year-old filmmaker emphasized the commonalities between Indian and Jewish family values, stating that there are clear parallels between the two traditions.
“Family is such a big part of Indian culture and experience. We don’t see things like dating and marriage as individual things, we see them as two families getting married,” he told India-West. “And I think a lot of Jewish culture is much grounded in that, too, and so even though the family is Jewish, a lot of my personal experiences and attitude of our culture get threaded throughout the script in that way.”
With totally relatable characters, Upadhye believes the audiences will see themselves in these characters, and learn something about their own journey to find love, and how there are two sides to every love story.
“This film has a pretty unique structure for a romantic film,” he noted. “The two characters are together in the beginning of the film and then they are separated for most of the middle of the movie. So what you get to see in the middle of the film is how their families and their family lives affects things, and the baggage they bring into their relationship is so affected by their upbringing, and we really get to see the similarities and differences in their family lives.”
For the highway scenes in the film, the professional production artist knew it had to be done for real so they went to great lengths to close down the 2 Freeway in Los Angeles for filming those scenes.
The young filmmaker, who went to high school in Pleasanton, later attended the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and since graduation has been a film and commercial director and editor. In the last eight years, apart from writing four feature screenplays, Upadhye has created TV spots and trailers for several critically acclaimed video games, including “Mass Effect 3” and “Battlefield 4,” and is currently the brand creative lead on the upcoming Star Wars’ video games, “Star Wars Battlefront.”
“To have any small part of shaping that brand is quite a privilege for someone who loves movies as much as I do,” he told India-West.
In addition, Upadhye is the co-creator of the TV pilot “Shark Bites,” which he put together with some friends from high school and which obtained a development deal with Disney Television Animation. He 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 impressive resume also includes 12 short films, among which are official selections at festivals such as Palm Springs ShortFest, the Las Vegas Film Festival and San Diego Film Festival, among others.
Born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, to Maharashtrian parents, Upadhye came to the U.S. when he was five and a half years old and traveled widely across the U.S. from Iowa to San Francisco Bay Area. He said he realized early on his insatiable appetite for the performing arts in all its varied forms, including digital art.
“I was always singing in choirs, learning musical instruments and I was in plays,” Upadhye recalled to India-West. “And the other thing I was passionate about was computer science and computer programming, a passion that I picked up from my dad. And I found out that films were the perfect merger of those two worlds.”
“Dating Daisy” took about two years from concept to completion, out of which the shoot took only 20 days. With a full-time job at Electronic Arts, a renowned video games publisher, the filmmaker admitted that running two parallel careers kept him busier than ever, and he shot Thursday-Sunday for five weeks.
“Ever since I decided that I wanted to do this, I knew I had to think of this as having two careers,” Upadhye said. “And to make sure that I can put food on the table but also that I am putting in equal amount of time into getting better at my craft.”
“When you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. It’s all worth it,” he said.