Every once in a while comes a film that powerfully flies high, like the most beautiful of kites that holds our hopes and dreams. Director/Writer/Editor Prashant Bhargava’s “Patang” is just such a film that showcases the ultimate chaos and absolute beauty of life, all upon the fragile wings of a kite. The movie has been making the film festival rounds (Berlin Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival) and has been getting quite a bit of attention. “Patang” is a film for those that wish to watch cinema, not to be carried away by a fantasy land, but to marvel instead at the beautiful complexities of human emotion. Seven years in the making, the attention to detail, avant garde use of p.o.v., and unusual camera angles gives the viewer a feeling of being right in the middle of the action.
How many of us have gone back home to our family in India, and all the various emotions that brings with it? The aged mother who is still living in the same house that her children grew up in, the house itself a character with memories etched in walls of memory, and the city (be it Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, or even Bhavnagar). There is an obvious undercurrent of lost feelings that are found once again, in an environment where so many people are living the stories of their lives. “Patang” focuses on a few of these stories to bring us one in which a father/brother/son/brother-in-law Jayesh (Mukund Shukla) comes to Ahmedabad to visit his aging mother Ba (Pannaben Soni),, sister-in-law Sudha (Seema Biswas), and angry nephew Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddique). He’s brought with him, his daughter Priya (Sughanda Garg), who brings with her an antique camera (which resembles one of those Super 8 Film cameras from the 70’s) to record all the things she finds fascinating on her trip. There are also parallel stories that focus on Chakku and a poor child, Hamid (Hamid Shaikh) whose friendship is heartwarming throughout the film. If that wasn’t enough, we get a glimpse into what life for a young man in Ahmedabad must be like with the character Bobby (Aakash Maherya), whose emotions cause him to fall in love with Priya, though he is just a seemingly flirt of the moment for her. Hanging over all of this is the spirit of Jayesh’s older brother who passed away bitterly resenting his younger brother. To reveal more about the plot would be a great disservice to the film, as the joy of watching it is in the unfurling of each character track. All these plotlines are centered around the the Uttrayan (kite) festival that takes place in the state of Gujrat every year on Jan 14th. During this day thousands of kites literally fill the skies as people take to the rooftops to have a joyously raucous time. The highlight of the film is that all these chaotic plot elements are brought to life by the symbolism of the kites floating on air currents high and low. The majestic swooping of the kites and the life of the characters that are pulling on glass sharpened kite strings brings a beautiful depth to the film, increasing the strength of the emotions felt by the viewer. The direction is in short, beautiful, sensually chaotic, and emotionally driven. Prashant Bhargava not only directed and edited the film, but also handled one of the HD cameras used to shoot the movie. He was joined by the director of photography Shankar Raman (“Peepli Live”) who handled the other camera. Capturing over 100 hours of footage, it’s amazing that Bhargava and editor Joe Klotz (“Precious), were able to chisel out a sculpture out of a mass of stone.
The cinematography by Shankar Raman captures the intensity of emotion not only in the actor’s performances, but also the sheer beauty of a sky full of kites. The cast combines actors with children who had never acted before who all enact their scenes with a believable conviction that infuses the film with energy. Standout performances are by the always wonderful Seema Biswas who conveys so much with her dialogue delivery and subtle expressions, Nawazuddin Siddique is blisteringly captivating as the angry nephew, Hamid Shaikh portrays such an innocent yet weary look that makes the audience gasp whenever his character is in danger, and Sughanda Garg who portrays a subtle innocent (or not) sensuality in her reactions to the the city around her (especially towards Bobby, the boy who serves as her “limited engagement” paramour). A special mention must be made regarding the portrayal of Bobby by Aakash Maherja, as he naturally and emphatically portrays a young man from Ahmedabad who provides an interesting contrast in terms of his more traditional small town beliefs with those held by the more forward Priya. The music by famed music composer Mario Grigorov (“Precious”) is haunting, and made even more enchanting by the musical talents of Shubha Mudgal, Pankaj Awasthi, Papon and Shilpa Rao.
“Patang” is the kind of film that needs to be seen, if you like some spice of life films along with your masala then this is for you. It’s the kind of film that is thrilling to watch, as kites fly between a myriad of joyful and sad emotions. As a bonus, I don’t believe that the festivel of Uttrayan has ever been so realistically captured on film before. Sensitive emotion, realistic performances, life-affirming cinematography, poignant stories, and artful direction combine in Prashant Bhargava’s “Patang”. Watch it, and you’ll fall under its spell as you fly as high as a kite.