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It took director Prashant Bhargava six years to write, direct and edit his first full-length feature film Patang, centered around the city of Ahmedabad during the annual kite festival of Uttarayan. But, that is not surprising, considering the attention and effort necessary to cultivate the spirit of a people, a city and a family into an immersing film experience.
The old city of Ahmedebad hosts the largest kite festival in all of India. With Uttarayan approaching there in electricity in the air and excitement in their heart as they order, make and deliver last-minute kites and as they prepare festive foods for guests. Jayesh (Mukund Shukla) has fostered both his business and his family in Delhi, but pays an overdue visit to his hometown and brings his big-city daughter with him. During their short stay they cannot elude the sorcery of the beautiful people, beautiful food and beautiful kites nor can they elude the unresolved turmoil that exists with the family he left behind.
The fractured family is central to the film, a focal point that houses key themes— unrealized potential, ruptured dreams, clashes of culture, religion and generations, perceptions of happiness— making Patang, much more than a family drama. Its exploration of identity and sense of home is so rich and truthful that it goes beyond the boundaries of India. For those of us who have ties in other places and who are brought up with a set of old-school customs there are reflections of our world in theirs. The characters, like the long-time widow who never remarries and still lives with her husband’s family, and the attitudes, like those of the complacent and resentful cousin who sings in a wedding band are very familiar.
Bhargava had his cast spend time together and improvise during filming, while he shot long and continuous takes. The result is nothing short of a series of faithful, visually stimulating and all-encompassing snapshots. He got a particularly stellar performance out of distinguished actress Seema Biswas, as Sudha, the widowed wife of Jayesh’s late brother. Sudha is so concentrated in her respect and so guided by love and Biswas is able to illuminate her open heart and strong values.
There are also great achievements in cinematography, editing and score— each facet of the film working to enliven senses of togetherness, romance, tradition and celebration.
Patang made its World Premiere at the 2011 Berlin Festival and will be making its North American Premiere in the World Narrative Competition at the TriBeCa Film Festival this month.
Sanela Djokovic is a writer living in the Bronx
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