|Prashant Bhargava: Revealing the Little Joys in Patang (The Kite)
|From viewers at the Berlin Film Festival to Roger Ebert, critics could not get enough of director Prashant Bharagava's Patang (The Kite). On the eve of its release (June 15), Prashant took time to speak exclusively to Desiclub.com. Read on to find out what makes Patang a must watch.
Where did the inspiration for Patang come from?
When I was a child I would visit India and always watched my uncles fly kites in Allahabad and Ujjain. What struck me about it was how kite flying would cut across differences and bring people together. People of all ages, religions, caste and class would come together and fly kites. I would stare at the sky watching all the kites with such wonder and I felt that this would be a great metaphor for family drama. Eight years ago, I visited Ahmedabad and I fell in love with the city. People gathering on their rooftops flying kites looked beautiful, but what struck me was how people in Gujarat were able to move from the difficult past. Kite flying united them and was a celebration of their spirit. The story itself emerged from three years of research that I did in Ahmedabad. I would sit on a street corner for hours at a stretch and just observe. Over time, I connected with shopkeepers and street kids, gangsters and grandmothers. This process formed the foundation for my characters, story and my approach to shooting the film.
The film revolves around the festival of Uttarayan, did you shoot during the actual festival or did you recreate it?
We shot for two months including on the day of Uttarayan. The focus was to allow people to live on screen. Ninety percent of the characters in the film are non-actors and we worked hard to cast actors that were the characters of the film in real life. I have some interesting casting stories.
Tell us about it?
As I said before I spent three years researching, the film in Ahmedabad and by my third year I could hold a camera one foot away from somebody anywhere in the old city and they would be perfectly comfortable and were able to bring out their natural live emotions and expressions. We 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. Whereas the actress who plays a grandmother met me at a bhajan (prayer meet). After the bhajan was over, I took to the microphone and announced that I was looking for a lady to play the role of a grandmother. Initially people were amused but then this old lady walked up to me and asked 'how much will you pay me?' I was taken aback by her bluntness and felt that she fit the role of the grandmother who was sly and pious. Similarly, Akash Maheriya the guy who plays the role has his first kiss as the character in the film. It is not only his first kiss as the character, but also his first kiss in real life! Many of the characters off screen were the characters of the film.
Were you not nervous casting non-actors in the film?
Preserving the naturalism of the environment, which was discovered during the research, guided every decision during filming, from shooting style to crew size to the process with the actors. I wanted to create the freedom for actors to live on screen rather than act. I would give my non-actors and actors emotional motivation or sometimes purely physical motivations. If I did it right, I would get the lines of the script. In the three years that I spent with the non- actors I got to know them and their community very well. This type of working style is new but I wanted to stay true to it, take it up as a challenge and I just went with my intuition.
Being that the film is very different, did you face any financial challenges?
It has been a long journey and we did not have any formal support from any major studios. Most of the support we received was from my private individuals and funders who watched my short film and believed in me. Securing investments and taking the film places has been a seven-year journey but I have loved every minute of it.
Seema Biswas, who plays Sudha, is one of the few popular faces in the film. Did you write the role keeping her in mind?
No the role was not written with Seema Biswas in mind. In fact, she was initially not so interested in the film but when she visited the set and saw how we were working, she decided to come on board. She realized that it was not another NRI (Non-Resident Indian) movie. I have tremendous respect for her and she has done a great job in the film.
Nawazuddin Siddiqui, who plays Chakku, is another actor who is winning accolades for his performance in the film?
This was Nawazuddin's first feature film as a lead hero (we shot in 2007 2008) and he is such a powerful, intuitive actor. On screen, he is a force. I am so proud that his career has taken off!
How did it feel like to have Patang at the Tribeca Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival and at Ebertfest?
It has been great and amazing and I am glad that it is finally releasing. We took Patang to 25 festivals and Tribeca, Berlin and Ebertfest were the highlights. We were nervous because for some of the cast of our film this was their first trip outside India! At Berlin, we did five different shows and all of them were full.
The film's theme is to hold on to the little everyday joys of life but it also does have a somber mood throughout?
It is a very different kind of film. It is about everyday magic, which is very subtle. It is not your jubilant Bollywood film or a Slumdog Millionaire and takes a little bit more involvement from the audience. However, the message of the film is very hopeful and it is a very real story. At Ebertfest, Patang was handpicked by Roger Ebert who really enjoyed the film and showcased it in an amazing theatre with the seating capacity of 1600 people. I was so touched by Roger Ebert's generosity despite his health issues he met with Nawazuddin and me and told us how much he enjoyed the film.
You were a graffiti artist before becoming a filmmaker, what do you think are the similarities between the two. How has that experience influenced your filmmaking sensibilities?
I did graffiti when I was younger and then I went into college and studied computer science and graphics and designed promos for HBO. From my days as a graffiti artist, I learnt how to construct letters, and put together colors. The rhythm of the shots in Patang, I would say, reflects my sensibilities as an artist.
Your mom was the founder of Apna Ghar, a shelter for battered women. How has she influenced and inspired you?
Both my mother and my sister are very strong and progressive women. My mother founded Apna Ghar and was very radical for her time. I feel like the characters of Sudha and the grandmother in my film are inspired by mother and sister. It is the spirit of Sudha that keeps the film moving. The women are the strength of the household and keep everyone together while the men are fragile.
After Patang what is next?
I shot a new feature film - an experimental music and film performance piece with Grammy nominated jazz artist Vijay Iyer. It is based on Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. I collaborated with Nawazuddin Siddiqui for a second time. We shot during Holi in Mathura. 10 days of wild primal, sexual, violent and celebratory devotion. The footage is so magical. I will be editing this summer. I am developing a new feature with my Patang collaborator writer James Townsend and writer Jon Dorsey that is set on the south side of Chicago on the golf courses in the African American community. Kangos, Cadillacs and hustling. Is a coming of age story of a 19 year old as he learns about the realities and contradictions in life from an older veteran golf hustler.
Personally, what kinds of films do you like watching?
I love the work of Satyajit ray, Terrence Malick and Wong Kai Wai. I do like Bollywood and American Hollywood films too but films that are definitely neo realist and poetic.
In your experience what are some of the challenges faced by Indian American filmmakers?
We are a small group; and Patang is one of the few films to come from America and yet it is very authentic to Ahmedabad. It is very much an anthem of Ahmedabad you do not have to focus on the riots there is a lot of happiness and joy in Ahmedabad, which the film focuses on. Our sensibility is not Bollywood and neither is it Danny Boyle or an Anurag Kashyap. This is an independent and authentic movement. It is a new way of storytelling and a channel to reach our audience. The challenge is for the movement to reach out to the audiences and forging a bond with them, which I am sure we will be able to achieve very soon. There are filmmakers such as Musa Sayed and Tanuj Chopra that are doing innovative work and actors such as Samrat Chakrabarti and Aziz Ansari whose work I really admire.
Your final message to the viewers would be?
Patang talks about the power of celebration or like Sudha says, lets hold on to the little happiness' that life gives us.
Click this link to log onto Patang's YouTube Channel and watch a trailer of the film and other interesting and exclusive footage.