'Patang' Brings Healing Touch to Gujarat

Washington, Jun 10 (IANS): Indian-American director Prashant Bhargava chose to set his award-winning first feature film "Patang" (Kite) about family conflict in Ahmedabad because of the unique way people of Gujarat handled tragedy with kites playing a key role.

"What touched me about Gujarat was the way people handled tragedy - riots, natural disasters. And kite flying played such an important role in providing them that momentum to pursue (happiness) and persevere," Bhargava told IANS over phone from New York.

"For me kite flying was a meditation and a purifying experience," said Bhargava, who focussed on the nucleus of a family to tell his story -- a successful Delhi businessman "returning to his childhood home with his daughter, a big city girl, who parties a lot and is very sexually aware, and his family there."

"That magic that I saw during the research period was something that I wanted to preserve," said Bhargava, born and raised on the South Side of Chicago.

"And so I designed the whole film, the whole scene the whole shooting style living that life on screen and preserved that authenticity and pride of that everyday stuff."

Coming from a director who has made music videos and commercials, it's not surprising that the film has a lyrical visual quality, but it's the naturalistic performance of the cast, 90 percent of which is made up of non-actors, that has taken everyone by storm.

How did he do that? For one, he paired an actor with a non-actor during the shooting and gave them small objectives. The result was very long takes with a one-minute scene sometimes taking two hours.

For one particular scene on the roof, the whole cast was in character for six hours with Seema Biswas of "Bandit Queen" fame moving around in character, preparing food for everyone the night before.

"That was the way we worked," said Bhargava.

He did a two-and-a-half month workshop for the street kids with games and memory exercises to make them comfortable in front of the camera.

"I would never give a kid the line. I'll tell him catch the kite and when he would see the kite, he would run after that sometimes through traffic; they would get angry with him.

"Some other kid would catch the kite he would be sad; he would catch the kite he would be happy," he added.

In the case of Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays the role of Chakku, an angry young man who resents the way his big city uncle descends grandly on the small town relatives, "I told him to roam around for two weeks. Do whatever you want to do. Find that Chakku character."

"So for two weeks he would go to chai shops, listen to people, watch out how they spoke. And he met a character who was like Chakku in real life," he said. "Eventually when he had to act in the film with kids, I introduced him as Chakku the character."

It's "for the first time a film showcases Ahmedabad to national audiences that shows not the riots but something positive," said Bhargava, expressing confidence his refreshingly different film will do well in India too.

It's "very Indian in its root. Very musical" and "I think Indian audiences are ready for something new," he said.

After winning awards and acclaim at prestigious film festivals like the Berlin and Tribeca, "Patang" releases in US theatres June 15 - in New York City, New Jersey and Chicago. Following that, it will release June 22 in Toronto and June 29 in Vancouver, the San Francisco Bay Area, and additional US cities in July and India soon after.


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