Patel was born in Mumbai, India. He is of Indian descent. He began performing at the age of seven, when he played male and female parts in the Hindu epic Ramayana. He made his film debut in Mandi directed by Shyam Benegal in 1983.
From 1994 to 2008, Patel worked with the eminent Indian theatre director Satyadev Dubey. In 1995, he joined the Indian National Theatre and appeared in the play Neela Kamra. His repertoire has included classical and modern Indian plays as well as plays by Western writers, e.g., Pinter's The Caretaker, Sartre's No Exit, Camus' Cross Purpose, Ionesco's The Lesson, and Mrozek's Vatzlav.
In the spring of 2007, Patel took the lead role of Eeshwar Dutt in Rafta, Rafta..., a comedy written by Ayub Khan-Din and directed by Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre in London to critical acclaim and sellout audiences.
His credits include The Buddha of Suburbia, China Gate, Mr India and Run Fatboy Run. In 2009 he appeared in Coronation Street playing the role of Umed, Dev Alahan's uncle. Patel also appeared in Mr Stink, Gangsta Granny, The Boy in the Dress and Billionaire Boy, the television film adaptations of children's books by David Walliams. He plays shopkeeper Raj in all the films, although they are set in different places.
His acting career has taken him all over India, and he has performed in the United Kingdom and abroad, in the United States and Dubai among other countries. Patel is a life member of the Cine & TV Artists Association of India.
He is well known for his catchphrase: gayee bhains paanee mein (the buffalo entered the water), in the movie, Mr. India.
- Four Weddings and a Funeral (2019)
- Billionaire Boy (2016)
- The Driver (2014)
- The Boy in the Dress (2014)
- Mapp and Lucia (2014)
- Gangsta Granny (2013)
- Mr Stink (2012)
- Baa Bahoo Aur Baby (2010)
- Coronation Street (2009)
- The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (2008)
- Gopaljee (1996)
- The Buddha of Suburbia (1993)
- Wagle Ki Duniya (1989)
- Malgudi Days (1987)
- Yatra (1986)
- Lies We Tell (2016)
- Jadoo (2013)
- Keith Lemon: The Film (2012)
- All in Good Time (2012)
- Today's Special (2009)
- Kisse Pyaar Karoon (2009)
- Run Fatboy Run (2007)
- Chicken Tikka Masala (2005)
- Pyaar Mein Twist (2005)
- Thoda Tum Badlo Thoda Hum (2004)
- Calcutta Mail (2003)
- Love at Times Square (2003)
- Ek Hindustani (2003)
- Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein (2002)
- Bokshu, the Myth (2002)
- Pyaar Ishq Aur Mohabbat (2001)
- Zubeidaa (2001)
- Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke (2000)
- Krodh (2000)
- Jab Pyaar Kisise Hota Hai (1998)
- Gunda (1998)
- Purani Kabar (1998)
- Gupt: The Hidden Truth(1997)
- Loha (1997)
- My Son the Fanatic (1997)
- Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love (1996)
- Ghatak: Lethal (1996)
- Mohra (1994)
- Andaz Apna Apna (1994)
- Aankhen (1993)
- Shola Aur Shabnam (1992)
- Police Public (1990)
- Maine Pyaar Kiya (1989)
- Mr India (1987)
- Mandi (1983)
- "Actor Harish Patel on the show". BBC. Retrieved 14 July 2012.
- "LAURENCE OLIVIER WINNERS' REMARKS: Best New Play & Best New Comedy". What's On Stage.
- "Rafta Rafta – Royal National Theatre". Japjit Kaur.
- Patel, Chandrika (2015). The Taste of British South Asian Theatres: Aesthetics and Production. Lulu Press. ISBN 9781483433417.
- "Wanted: multicultural audiences for mainstream theatre". The Guardian. The Guardian.
- "'I couldn't say no to David' – Harish Patel". The Asian Today.
- "Billionaire Boy". Radio Times. Radio Times.
- Young, Deborah (13 June 2006). "Bokshu, The Myth". Variety. Retrieved 18 December 2017.
- Warrier, Shobha (22 May 2002). "Why can't an Indian make a film in English?". Rediff.com. Retrieved 18 December 2017.