Monday, June 11, 2012

Patang: Kites in the Sky

The last couple of years has seen a boom of high-quality, low budget Hindi language films. Patang, directed by Prashant Bhargava, is one of them. The film has been slowly making the rounds of film festivals like Tribeca* and Ebertfest to good reviews and mild buzz and is now set for an official release on June 15th. I was lucky enough to be able to screen the film beforehand.

Patang, which means kite in Hindi, is set in Ahmedabad, Gujarat during the Kite Flying Festival. Jayesh (Mukkund Shukla), a Delhi businessman, makes a surprise visit to his hometown with his daughter Priya (Sugandha Garg, from Tere Bin Laden and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) in tow. He calls his bhabhi Sudha (the ethereal Seema Biswas) en route to announce himself and turns the whole household upside down.

Sudha’s son Chakku (man of the moment Nawazzuddin Siddiqui) is not happy about his uncle’s visit. Chakku sings in a wedding band and spends his free time hanging out on the street, sunglasses tucked in the back of his shirt Chulbul Pandey style. He hates Jayesh’s constant needling about work and duty and thinks his uncle is nothing more than a big, fat hypocrite. Chakku prefers to sulk and play cards and act as ringleader to a pack of street kids, including young Hamid (Hamid Shaikh) than to interact with his family.

Meanwhile, daughter Priya is in full cultural tourist mode and wanders around the streets (in the charmingly affected way of young “artsy” women worldwide) with her Super 8 camera. She is in Ahmedabad but really only sees “Ahmedabad.” Priya also meets with an earnest young man named Bobby (newcomer Aakash Maheriya, who appears to have also snagged a role in Tom Alter’s upcoming Kevi Rite Jaish) and takes a touristy jaunt through his heart, as well.

Though Patang may get lumped in with some of the recent “Hindie”** films like Vicky Donor, it’s actually much closer to New Wave than middlebrow multiplex pleaser.*** Prashant Bhargava relies heavily on visuals to tell the story - small Hamid carrying a large parcel of kites lost in the crowd, a sparkle in Bobby’s eyes when he sees Priya, Jayesh and his old school buddies putting back a peg of Black Label, footage from Priya’s camera, Chakku half-heartedly singing in the street, Sudha gossiping with her friends, Amma rising for her morning prayers with Priya beside her sound asleep. The dialogue is sparse and naturalistic, letting the history and relationship of the characters spill out organically and leaving the resolution somewhat ambivalent. Viewers must piece together the story themselves. Will the episode have any lasting impact on the characters? We can’t know.

The tensions of new and old India push and pull through out the film. Jayesh’s drive to succeed is completely incomprehensible to Chakku and Sudha, who are content to live. Priya’s modern freedom is a glorious thing but it comes at the expense of her relationships with other people. After all, for a kite to fly free, it must sever its ties to the person below.

Prashant apparently spent some years in Ahmedabad, researching and interviewing and shooting footage and his attention to detail really comes accross in the film. With Patang he doesn’t want to tell us a story but to capture a family in all its complexity at one moment in time. I think he succeeds.

*Sample clueless review: “I was happy with its ability to steer clear of the typical bollywood movie trademarks i.e. choreographed singing and dancing numbers in the middle of the film.”

** I hate this word so much.

*** Though I fully expect to see comparisons to Slumdog Millionaire and/or Monsoon Wedding from the Western press if they review it, neither of which it is similar to at all except that it takes place in India.

1 comment:

OG said...

The film sounds really interesting FG!

Need to check if this film has a release at my place!

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