Nar­rat­ing a spe­cial from his L.A. drive­way, Dev Pa­tel cel­e­brates coun­try’s beauty


LONDON — Quar­an­tine brought op­por­tu­ni­ties to Dev Pa­tel’s front yard. From a safe dis­tance, the Bri­tish ac­tor was able to en­joy both his birth­day and his re­la­tion­ship with In­dia with­out leav­ing his L.A. home.

The first was cour­tesy of his girl­friend, Aus­tralian ac­tress Tilda Cob­ham-Her­vey, who ar­ranged for Pa­tel’s friends to drive past with pa­per planes and letters while he sat in front of the house.

Sec­ond was the of­fer to cel­e­brate In­dia’s cul­ture and civ­i­liza­tions by nar­rat­ing a Na­tional Ge­o­graphic spe­cial, “In­dia From Above,” which airs Sept. 30.

As he quar­an­tined, a por­ta­ble record­ing booth was sent and parked in his drive­way. “It was like a trailer hitched to a car, that had been com­pletely san­i­tized,” Pa­tel ex­plained.

Apart from be­ing re­minded of the pan­demic by the sound of a pass­ing am­bu­lance, it worked well for the voice-over.

“It was in­cred­i­ble to be able to make some art in a way, to voice this beau­ti­ful thing, linked up to In­dia,” said Pa­tel.

“In­dia From Above” is a twopart doc­u­men­tary which uses drone footage to show aerial views of tow­er­ing tem­ples, re­li­gious gath­er­ings, EDM fes­ti­vals and so­lar tech­nol­ogy.

Pa­tel fre­quently films in In­dia, but high above the crowd is not a per­spec­tive he’s used to.

“As soon as I step off that plane and out of the air­port, you’re sucked into this mas­sive hu­man­ity, the crowds and the peo­ple and your eye level just kind of be­ing swept along with this tide of peo­ple. And that will sweep you some­where re­ally in­spir­ing and quite mag­i­cal.”

“But to zoom fur­ther and fur­ther out and higher and higher — that is pretty spe­cial,” he added

Pa­tel, who earned an Emmy nom­i­na­tion for por­tray­ing a heart­bro­ken dat­ing app de­vel­oper in “Mod­ern Love,” ad­mits to be­ing tempted to go “full At­ten­bor­ough” af­ter grow­ing up lis­ten­ing to Sir David nar­rate nat­u­ral his­tory shows.

“For me, it was just telling the story of the in­ge­nu­ity of the peo­ple, the every­man. How peo­ple find a way in In­dia, no mat­ter how hard the con­di­tion is,” he said.

As a re­sult, he now plans to visit Lok­tak Lake, that fea­tures in the pro­gram, where peo­ple live in houses on small is­lands of veg­e­ta­tion.

“It feels like some­thing out of James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ movie. There’s a still­ness and a seren­ity that is just breath­tak­ing.”

Pa­tel de­scribes his own re­la­tion­ship with In­dia as “ever chang­ing.”

“I feel the sense of be­long­ing when I go there. And I also feel like a to­tal alien at times.”

The Os­car-nom­i­nated ac­tor from “Slum­dog Mil­lion­aire,” “Lion” and “Ho­tel Mum­bai” will be seen later this sum­mer in the ti­tle role of “The Per­sonal His­tory of David Cop­per­field,” a ver­sion of the Charles Dick­ens clas­sic from writer-di­rec­tor Ar­mando Ian­nucci (“Veep”).

He of­ten is in In­dia on lo­ca­tion and was pre­par­ing an­other film when the pan­demic struck. It’s a pas­sion project called “Mon­key Man,” a thriller set in Mum­bai. Pa­tel is set to star and make his di­rec­to­rial de­but.

He was on one of the last planes leav­ing In­dia be­fore lock­down and says the lo­cals went “above and be­yond” to help him.

“Mum­bai dur­ing that time, it was kind of dystopian. There’s no cars or rick­shaws on the road. It was empty. The ho­tel that we’re stay­ing at, those are eight of us. So it felt like ‘The Shin­ing,’ be­ing in this empty, hu­mon­gous ho­tel with all the lights switched off.”

Since his re­turn to the U.S., he’s spent some rare time at home prep­ping for fu­ture projects.

“Even though we’re hi­ber­nat­ing, and we can’t phys­i­cally live in the world be­tween ‘ac­tion’ and ‘cut’ right now, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be ex­plor­ing ideas.”


Dev Pa­tel at­tends a screen­ing of “Ho­tel Mum­bai” in New York in 2019.


Cir­cu­lar Phumdis, or or­ganic is­lands, float atop Lok­tak Lake, the largest fresh­wa­ter lake in north­east In­dia, in an im­age from the two-part spe­cial “In­dia From Above.”

A large crowd swims in the wa­ter dur­ing a Hindu fes­ti­val in In­dia, as shown in “In­dia from Above,” nar­rated by ac­tor Dev Pa­tel. It pre­mieres Sept. 30 on Na­tional Ge­o­graphic.

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