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When the sky becomes a kaleidoscope of emotions
NIDHI GUPTA  5th Aug 2012

Stills from Prashant Bhargava’s heart-warming film, Patang

he celebration of cities and their essence has become a commonplace exploration in mainstream Bollywood cinema today – we have Kahaani, Delhi Belly and Oye Lucky Lucky Oye as shining examples of this. But eight years ago, when Chicago-based graffiti and hip-hop artist Prashant Bhargava decided it was time to practice his hand on celluloid, it was Ahmedabad that occupied a large part of his imagination. Who could fault him, for this tier-II city has one of the most entrancing visual palettes to offer to the world in the form of Uttarayan – the annual kite festival.

In July 2011, Bhargava's first feature film based in this imagery opened in New York. Patang: The Kite has gone on to win acclaim at prestigious international film festivals including Tribeca and Berlin. So its India premiere at the Osian's Cinefan Film Festival last week was an irresistible, 90-minute long treat that had its audience in raptures.

The story unwinds as Jayesh, a rich businessman from Delhi, visits his hometown to celebrate this festival of kites, with his 'urbane' daughter Priya (Sugandha Garg) and her miniature video camera in tow. Their ancestral home in the heart of the old city is a crumbling mansion, with his mother, sister-in-law (Seema Biswas) and underachieving nephew Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) living perfectly middle-class lives. Your average north-Indian family, this motley bunch of characters goes through a cavalcade of emotions, with an undercurrent of jealousy, angst and resentment vaguely puncturing an otherwise joyous occasion.

Personified as kites, metaphorically speaking, these individuals have their own orbits to trace, and their own heights to reach to. Bhargava also has a message to give through these vignettes: life could be either a bloody, intense competition to get ahead and kiss victory, like the kite festival in Ahmedabad is, or it could be about soaring to new heights, assisted by and in aid of those we love.

"We wanted to tell the story of a community and a place. The idea was to portray what a weekend with our families usually looks like – big gatherings like this always have agendas, but there are never any neat conclusions. It just becomes a riotous occasion to see what the family is going through," explains producer Jaideep Punjabi.

Between 2005 and 2008, Bhargava practically lived in Ahmedabad for months at a time to research for this movie. Eventually, he decided that naturalism was of essence to see his vision through. Thus, armed with two HVX Panasonic cameras, cinematographer Shanker Raman and crew did some heavy-duty guerrilla-style shooting around town, capturing bustling kite markets and a real-time baraat in action. The result is a very lyrical portrayal of the old city of Ahmedabad, right from grimy alleys to ravishing sunsets from rooftops and a sky alight with colour, just for that one tumultuous day.

Interestingly, the movie largely features extreme close-ups of the lead characters, where you're aware a constant bustle, but only in the background. "If you take a wide-angle shot of any street in Ahmedabad, you could spot six different stories emerging. We wanted to put in a sense of intimacy. For this, it took us 2-and-a-half years to edit 200 hours of film footage," explains Punjabi.

Ninety per cent of the 'actors' in the movie too are not really acting. Aakash Maherya, who essays the role of jilted lover-boy Bobby rather effortlessly, reminisces about the amount of improvisation happening on the sets. "Prashant called me to the set late one night and asked Sugandha and me to have a chat. They gave me a lot of mints to chew on, and I kept wondering why. Eventually, Sugandha asked me to close my eyes and just kissed me full on the lips. It was my first kiss both on and off-screen, so all that crossed my face immediately after is exactly how I felt at that moment," he laughs.

Patang is also Nawazuddin Siddiqui's real debut in feature films. "That was a time when we could get Siddiqui on set three weeks early and ask him to just walk around the city and get it under his skin. Of course, this isn't possible today," quips Punjabi. A lot has certainly changed in the eight years it took this movie to come out. But its sentiment of preservation and telling it like it is imbues one with a sense of warmth that is evergreen.

 
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