In one of the earliest shots of Prashant Bhargava’s Patang (The Kite), the green, yellow and pink domes of small temple in one Ahmedabad neighborhood stand out against the greys of the buildings around them. It’s an arresting shot, one of several that surprise and delight in between the story of a weekend family reunion that plays out during Uttarayan, the city’s annual kite festival. The film has been shown at the Berlin and Tribeca Film Festivals.
Jayesh (Mukund Shukla) and his daughter Priya (Sugandha Garg) have come from Delhi for the celebration, to visit his mother (Pannaben Soni), his late brother’s wife, Sudha (Seema Biswas) and her sullen, seemingly aimless son Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who is always hidden behind one of his many pairs of sunglasses.
Bhargava and his crew proceed to reveal, in brief snippets of conversations and multiple images from different angles and viewpoints, some of what is going within the family. In short, the folks in Gujurat are struggling financially while Jayesh and his absent wife (who chose to go on a wine tasting that weekend) and twenty-something Priya are doing well. Sudha teaches and Chakku sings with a wedding band. Jayesh is seeking to move the family out of the old house in the old city and shift them to an apartment in the new part of town, something which does not go down well, and causes a strong reaction from his nephew. Meanwhile, Priya sets out with her movie camera to film around the neighborhood and meets Bobby (Aakash Maherya) in an electronics store when the camera jams and she needs help.
Over the course of the next day, the day of the festival, Bhargava shows the family on the roof, flying kites and eating. Jayesh catches up with his old school chums and enjoys the company of his mother and sister-in-law, while Priya and Bobby grow closer, and Chakku hangs out with Hamid (Hamid Shaikh), a young errand boy and his little friends on the street.
It’s interesting to note that no mention is made of the communal violence nor the earthquake of the past decade, two of the more infamous incidents associated with Ahmedabad. In the slices of life that Bhargava shows us, the biggest struggle affecting some people is that of simply getting by. Little Hamid, who makes deliveries for a kite shop, is turned away from home by his grandmother when he knocks at the door one night, because he’s not brought any pay with him.
The color motif – pink, yellow, green – from the temple domes is repeated during the film in the kurti Priya wears on Uttarayan, in the kite that passes through several hands over the course of the day, and it’s even echoed in the sari and blouse that Sudha wears on the festival day and Bobby’s iridescent lavender shirt.
Like the opening shot of the temple, several others are unfussy and compelling… one lone tree in full bloom pictured against the concrete and plaster of the walls and roofs of the city, and another that I would happily purchase if it were for sale: a lineup consisting of a motorcycle parked outside a doorway, next to a generic Indian street dog sitting on the pavement, eyes closed as he soaks up the sun, which is next to a red Ganesha painted in profile on a white wall – beautiful.
The care taken for these shots, and details like the wildly florid shirts of Bobby’s friends (I thought it was only Bombay boys that went in for them!), and Hamid’s ever present Spiderman mask atop his head, together with the way outcomes are not always immediately clear in the next scene, make the viewer feel as if he or she is watching real people go about their lives, not characters in a film. This too because the film takes its time.
That said, the ensemble of actors Seema Biswas, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Panneben Soni, Mukund Shukla and Sugandha Garg work so well together, you’d almost believe they are family.
See it or skip it?
See it. Patang is different in that it offers a slice of life from a part of India not often represented in Hindi films, and I loved the relationship portrayed between Sudha and her mother-in-law, full of warmth and affection.