To “bring a young brown boy’s story to the pop culture zeitgeist,” Patel first pitched the short to Pixar executives in the summer of 2012.
The film’s setting was inspired by the Lido Motel, an old Route 66 motel which his parents bought and worked at when he was a child. Patel started the film with only Vishnu, which served as a “mirror of my father” and would contrast one deity with three superheroes. Then the development team suggested adding more gods, with Patel choosing Durga to showcase a goddess as “in Vedic philosophy, there’s always a masculine energy and a feminine energy”, and Hanuman for a half-animal deity. Ravana drew inspiration from the various Rakshasas, and following Buddhist tradition, “the demon isn’t vanquished, he isn’t destroyed. Once the boy destroys his idol, it makes the monster more human.”
Born in London, United Kingdom, Patel moved to the United States with his family at the age of four. His father bought a motel in San Bernardino, California and Patel grew up in the motel helping his father at the front desk but mostly immersed in his passion for drawing cartoon characters and watching animation shows on television.
But each time the cartoon shows would come on television, Patel’s father would want to pray to Hindu gods. And Patel and his older brother would be forced to join the rituals. “My dad would pray three times a day — morning, afternoon and night,” Patel said to The Hindu. “Morning and afternoon was when the cartoons would come on. But there would be no conversation since we would start to sing aarti. And he would turn off the cartoons. But I wanted to watch Voltron. In the morning there would be Japanese cartoons and American ones in the afternoon. And they would both come diametrically in conflict with my dad’s pujas.”
Sanjay’s obsession with television, cartoons and his superhero action figures and father’s pooja rules seem to have paid off big time.