Praised by film critic Roger Ebert as “hypnotically beautiful,” Patang is a poetic journey to the old city of Ahmedabad that weaves together the stories of six people transformed by the energy of India’s largest kite festival. Every year a million kites fill the skies above Ahmedabad – dueling, soaring, tumbling and flying high. When a successful Delhi businessman takes his daughter on a surprise trip back to his childhood home for the festival, an entire family has to confront its own fractured past and fragile dreams.
With naturalistic performances from actors and non-actors alike, Patang is a realistic look at familial ties and human emotion. With bold, lyrical editing, vibrant cinematography and a kinetic score, Patang delights the senses and nourishes the spirit.
Patang releases in theaters on June 15 in New York City (Cinema Village), New Jersey (Big Cinemas in Edison and North Bergen), and Chicago (AMC River East 21). It then releases on June 22 in Toronto and Vancouver, June 29 in the SF Bay Area, and additional US cities in July.
How did you cast and work with the kids in the film? During my visits to Ahmedabad over the years to research the movie, I had befriended several kids—played with them, flew kites with them, got to know their families. Each year, I was certain I had found our lead child actor. But when I returned the next year, they had grown and changed.
A few months prior to the shoot, our casting department selected sixty children. Eventually, we conducted a workshop with twelve children. We played theater games to build trust, discipline and freedom in front of the camera. Many of the children had seen adversity in their past, yet their smiles and laughter were pure. We chose Hamid as our lead child actor, because he was so effortless in front of the camera; he had an uncanny wisdom and persistence in his expression.
During the shoot, we never shared the script with the kids. I would just give them physical tasks. For instance, I would direct Hamid to catch ten cut kites as they fell from the skies above. He’d run through traffic, revel as he caught one, fight with rickshaw drivers as he darted in front of them.
The kids never acted; they were always themselves. Their work shines in the film and sets the bar for the performances by the established actors. Working with the kids was amongst the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences of my life. I learned so much from them as a human being and director.
Discuss your approach to shooting Patang and the film’s cinematography. During the three years of research, we accumulated over 100 hours of research footage. We would sit for hours with a camera in hand on a corner, in a shop, in a home or on a rooftop. Beautiful stories would unfold as we silently observed. We slowly let go of our preconceptions. By the third year, we were orchestrating locals to naturally enact scenes of the film. The visual language originated from this immersion and observation.
I was fortunate to collaborate with Shanker Raman (Harud, Peepli Live), our director of photography. He took a leap of faith, embracing the uncertainty inherent in the process. He has a peaceful aura about him on the shoot more akin to a documentary cinematographer. I communicated with him as I would with an actor, providing emotional objectives rather than framing.
We did whatever we could to help the actors forget about the presence of the cameras. We shot in natural light for the daytime scenes, during early morning or late afternoon. For interior and nighttime scenes, Shanker designed lighting setups that allowed the actors to move freely.
Both Shanker and I were shooting with small HD cameras, so we could do long takes upward of forty minutes. Many times we found ourselves pushing one another out of the way. As time progressed we developed our own rhythm with the actors. Shanker focused on the overall coverage of the drama, and I would capture small moments and experiment freely. We had an unspoken sense of when the magic would occur.
Discuss your process working with composer Mario Grigorov of the Oscar-nominated film Precious to create the film’s score. Mario Grigorov (Precious, Taxi to the Dark Side) was a blessing, a joy to work with; his palate is incredibly diverse. My vision was to create a theme-driven score that tied together the fate of all the characters. We began in a novel way. We sat together for a week and composed the entire score together on the piano. We developed a theme and melodies that highlighted the journey of the kite and the troubled past of the family. Mario led musicians in improvisations based on these melodies—little of the piano remained in the final score. Mario’s work brought depth and clarity to the narrative.
We then collaborated with legendary vocalist Shubha Mudgal for the final two pieces of the score. After we discussed the emotional journey of each scene with her, she sang atop Mario’s melodies remotely from India. Her voice is delightful and soulful, guiding the destinies of the characters.
Discuss the process behind editing Patang. Scenes were not rehearsed; they were improvised largely with non-actors and shot hand-held in long takes, without the conventional over-the-shoulder or master shots. As a result, the edit was a two-year process of distilling and constructing a scripted narrative from 200 hours of documentary-like footage. Just watching the footage took over a month. We would have more than a hundred minutes of footage for each minute of screen time. It was a joy in retrospect but very difficult being in a room by myself.
I began by constructing those scenes with major plot points and then proceeded to the transitional scenes. I would make small discoveries, pulling a shot from here, splicing it with a magic moment there, and then returning to the overall structure. Eventually the edit captured the narrative of the original script. During the last two months of the process, I worked with the talented editor Joe Klotz (Precious, Rabbit Hole, Junebug) to cut down the two-and-a-half-hour rough cut. We’d go back and forth, revising the larger structure, pacing scenes, preserving the environment and the voice of the film.
The editing was challenging, but it was the part of the process where I grew most as a director.
What was the response of the community in which you filmed Patang when they saw the finished film? Returning to Ahmedabad to share the film with our cast and crew and the community was a magical experience. I felt honored and humbled when people from Ahmedabad embraced the film as their own story. Audience members remarked how the film gave their lives and city an identity and a voice and captured the living heritage of their home.
The passion we sought to communicate with the film filled the air as we screened it and then celebrated the kite festival together. So many lives have been affected during the journey of making this film. I hold the memories and the friendships very dear.
What are the challenges of making the kind of cinema you would like to make? We broke every possible rule in making this film. We created a subtle, understated family drama. We shot in a foreign language for the international market. We shot using hand-held cameras with no storyboards, doing improvised takes with largely non-actors.
The crew had to take a leap of faith. We chose to work within the community and preserve the simple and natural beauty found within Ahmedabad’s old city. So often during the process, we were told that what we were trying to do was crazy. And it was. Yet somehow we managed to persevere and make it happen.
Release Date: June 15
Cast: Seema Biswas, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sugandha Garg, Mukund Shukla, Aakash Maherya, and Hamid Shaikh
Director: Prashant Bhargava
Producer: Jaideep Punjabi
** Official Selection **
Berlin Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival
Jerusalem Film Festival
Vancouver International Film Festival
Chicago International Film Festival
Hong Kong Asian Film Festival
Philadelphia International Film Festival
Geneva International Film Festival
WINNER – Best Narrative Feature – Hawaii International Film Festival
WINNER – Best Narrative Feature – DC APA Film Festival
“The storytelling is effortlessly made part of the hypnotically beautiful visuals, and woven into a kaleidoscope of colors, faces, music and a little romance. Bhargava is masterful in the way he allows his story to emerge from his mosaic, instead of spelling it out by the numbers. Evokes the old and new Indias side by side as well as I’ve seen done.” – ROGER EBERT