Patel's first opportunity for acting came in the form of an offer from her father's schoolmate, Rakesh Roshan, to star opposite his son, Hrithik Roshan, in Kaho Naa. . . Pyaar Hai (2000). The offer came immediately after she graduated from high school, but she refused the project because she wanted to continue her education in the US. Afterwards, Kareena Kapoor replaced her, but luckily, Kapoor dropped out a few days into the principal photography and Patel was given the opportunity once again during a family lunch. She readily agreed to do the project this time. The role of an exuberant college girl in love, undergoing a tortuous time at losing her lover and rediscovering a more mature relationship gave Patel scope to perform. The film was a smashing success and established Patel as a rising star, earning her awards for Best Debut at a number of award ceremonies. In her second film, the Telugu language drama Badri, she starred opposite Pawan Kalyan. The film was a major success, grossing more than Rs 120 million in India.