‘Patang’ – The Kite – is about family & celebration
What would be the best way to spend 95 minutes? I would recommend catching ‘Patang’, a small, spunky colorful kite of a film which will make your spirits soar. Made by US-based Prashant Bhargava, it’s his first feature film and took six years to make. With it, he’s thrown filmi convention to the winds – going off on a limb, using hand-held cameras, no storyboards and mostly non-actors.
The little film has won big praise, showing at The Berlin Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival, and scores of other festivals. I think the biggest compliment one can pay ‘Patang’ is that you forget it’s a movie, that it’s all been ‘shot’. ‘Patang’ is the real life of small towns, the intricacies of familial bonds and the joy of small moments shared together.
The cinematography of Shankar Raman, the original music by Mario Grigorov, the editing and direction by Prashant Bhargava are the ingredients which make this happen, along with very natural actors.
The film revolves around a frayed family’s reunion in Ahmedabad during Uttarayan, the city’s huge celebration when thousands of kites fill the sky and the inhabitants mount the roof tops of rundown apartment buildings for a joyous battle of kites. There is music, celebration, food and dancing and a family that has grown distant re-connects over the festival.
Bhargava, who has lived all his life in the US, based the film on childhood memories of holidays in India. “When I was a kid, my uncles used to fly kites back in Allahabad and Ujjain. They would just stay up and forget everything that happened before or after the festival. Rich, poor, young and old – they all lived just in the moment. Kite flying was a meditation in its purest and simplest form which transcended all religious and class boundaries.”
He decided to locate his story in the old city of Ahmedabad, the kite-flying capital of India. “Ahmedabad has gone through so much religious violence in the past and natural disasters – and what struck me about this particular festival was how the entire city comes together,” he says. “It was vital for their moving forward – this was the way they handled all difficulties, personal and as a city – and this united them. I never saw anything like that in such a grand, particular way in any other part of India.”
Prashant Bhargava spent much time getting to know the city and it shows in his familiarity and pitch-perfect detail. It’s a stroll down the real streets – cows, sleepy citizenry, urchins and the bustling markets all captured with an affectionate gaze – it’s about life in the slow lane. It’s a very personal tale, a story of a family coming together and moving away again – like dueling kites, each flies off in its own direction.
While Bhargava has used some wonderful non-actors in the film, especially children, his actors are just as strong. The marvelous Seema Biswas, seen in ‘Bandit Queen’ and ‘Water’, conveys raw emotion with few words, a glance, a smile. In a film where it’s a compliment to be a non-actor, she’s the ultimate non-actor. No Bollywood artifices here, Chamak Chalo is a long way off.
Meet Chukku – Nawazuddin Siddiqui
This was also the first lead role in a feature film for Nawazuddin Siddiqui, the actor who’s gone on to deliver strong performances in so many films from ‘Peepli live’ to Dekh India Circus’ to ‘The Gangs of Wasseypur.” Says Bhargava, “He’s an amazing actor, he’s so expressive and intuitive. He’s one of those actors who you can place in any situation and he’s able to go with it and live in that self – which is very, very rare.”
He adds, “Nawaz always talks of ‘Patang’ as his turning point – as the moment when things entirely changed for him; when he worked with the kids he had to let go off all his acting training – the naturalism that you see in his work really came from ‘Patang.'”
The Kite is about families and resilience
In one of the scenes, one of the young urchins, Hamid, manages to finally capture a fallen kite stranded on a parapet – his smile is triumphant; it is indeed the small joys and victories that you cling to in life – the bigger griefs are forgotten.
‘Patang’ is a joyful way to spend a few hours: you’re on the roof, watching the dazzling show of multicolored kites in the sky, and bit by bit you get caught up in the bittersweet dramas of ordinary people, ordinary lives – and just maybe you will see your own life reflected in there…