I love the film Patang, which you probably know if you have read my interviews with the director Prashant Bhargava, and actors Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Seema Biswas. In fact, in my intro to Prashant’s interview I said, “Prashant Bhargava’s Patang is an art film in the highest definition that is filled with exciting scenes, beautiful pictures and quiet moments, where a look or an action literally takes your breathe away.” Now I wish I had saved that line for this review because it really does describe the film perfectly. First, let’s set the scene.
The Place: The roofs and streets of Ahmedabad and the family home
The Time: During the kite flying festival Uttarayan
The Story: Patang weaves together the stories of six people transformed by the energy of India’s largest kite festival. A successful Delhi businessman Jayesh (Mukkund Shukla) takes his daughter Priya (Sugandha Garg) on a surprise trip back to his childhood home for the festival after being away for many years. He is there to experience the kites flying and battling and soaring once again but also with another idea in hand. At the family home is his mother and Sudha (Seema Biswas), Jayesh’s sister-in-law. She is the one who has kept the family and home together. Much like at home, Sudha is the center and the heart of the story. There is Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Sudha’s son, a man with no real purpose but to sing in a band. He is tough guy; he has swagger and lots of anger towards the past. However, there is also a tender side that is brought out when he spends time with a street kid named Hamid (Hamid Shaikh). We also meet Bobby (Aakash Maheriya), a boy of Ahmedabad who falls completely in love with Priya. Every year, during Uttarayan, a million kites fill the skies above Ahmedabad–dueling, soaring, tumbling and flying high, and this is the perfect metaphor for the story that the film presents as an entire family has to confront its own fractured past and fragile dreams. Music and fireworks, food and laughter, a kaleidoscope of color and light, the magic of the kite flying high – a traditional recipe of healing and renewal. This is the art that is the joyous, amazing film Patang.
Now, let’s take a more in depth look at those exciting scenes, beautiful pictures and all the quiet moments that make up the brilliance that is Patang. The story is beautiful in its complexity and its simplicity. It follows these six characters, as well as the people of Ahmedabad, through everyday life and moves on to how the skies and lives are transformed when the kites begin to fly. What is interesting is that much of the story is not told through dialogue, but through the camera and the looks and nuances it captures.
Prashant doesn’t present his tale through a traditional storyline or straight shot camera angles, but actually puts us inside the city, inside the energy, inside the family, inside the action and reveals glimpses of life. They shot over 100 hours of footage on two small HD cameras, because the idea was for these actors to actually live as and be these characters. With long takes, hidden cameras, and shots taken on the street by Priya’s camera, we really feel as if we are there experiencing the story. He wanted his actors to live on screen and we were right there with them. Jayesh first riding around the town and experiencing it once again. Sudha running around cleaning the house. Chakku on the street with the band. Priya exploring the city on her own. Bobby flirting with her by pushing the car towards her in the camera store. Everyone eating together both in the market and at home. The fun, the competition, the energy, the beauty and the joy on screen while the kites are flying.
Then, there are scenes that will stay with you for a long time after the film is over just because of the power and emotion that is captured by the lens. Bobby and Priya’s kiss. Hamid coming home too late and the incredible look on his face. Everyone watching the sky filled with colors. Sudha ripping the pink napkin and the pain it shows. Sudha wiping away Priya’s tears while you hear the grandmother praying in the background. Sudha repairing the kite to give to Jayesh as forgiveness, and so many more.
None of those scenes would be considered amazing if it wasn’t for the actors on screen. The film was made with just three professional actors: Seema Biswas, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sugandha Garg, the rest of the cast were non-actors. Yes, 95% of this cast was non-actors, which is quite amazing. Three had featured parts, and though Mukkund Shukla, Aakash Maheriya and Hamid Shaikh began this film as “non-actors”, they leave with the praise that they are all incredible actors. Mukkund is wonderful as Jayesh, showing both the cocky ‘I know I am right’ side and then the fun and vulnerability that is brought out during the kite scenes and the “holding on” discussion with Sudha. Aakash Maheriya – some director better scoop him up quick because he was mesmerizing on screen – I would never, ever, ever have guessed this was his first film. Hamid – how this little boy did what he did and showed on screen I will never know, but I don’t think I will ever forget the look on his face as his grandmother’s door closes.
Coming to the main actors in the piece. Sugandha is perfect as Priya; she has this spark that just shines of the screen, and whether you see her in a shot alone or in her scenes with Bobby on the roof you are drawn into her world. She was wonderful. Nawazuddin was quite incredible. Much like Manoj Bajpayee, he gets so inside a character that you don’t recognize who he is or who he has played before. I can think of no higher compliment to give him. He completely takes on Chakku and seeing the change as he goes from angry boy, to the tender joy and protection he shows the kids, to the end when you see he is honoring the past and moving towards the future, is fabulous. Then, of course there is the incredible Seema Biswas. Whether she is teaching the kids, preparing the food, getting Chakku up, spinning on the roof, sitting and remembering, repairing the kite or teaching us all the lesson of the film, she is perfect in every line, emotion and movement.
Like the film, I only want to give you glimpses of its brilliance because it so much more when you experience it yourself. The film is a celebration of hope and through it you learn to, as Sudha says, “Hold on to your happiness.” Full of color, life, energy and hope, Patang opens in theaters in the US and Canada on June 15th.
4.5 out of 5 stars, Patang is a must see for all movie lovers!