A patang, which is Hindi for a "kite," figures large in the theme of Prashant Bhargava's film "Patang" ("The Kite), which will be screened at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday night. WNYC's Abbie Fentress Swanson sat down with the 38-year-old Prospect Heights, Brooklyn filmmaker to talk about happiness, family and India's largest kite festival, the Uttarayan, in Ahmedabad.
Abbie Fentress Swanson: How did you come to filmmaking?
Prashant Bhargava: When I was growing up, I used to do a lot of graffiti and I also used to love computers. Just mixing the two, I started doing a lot of graphic design coming out of college. From there, I got into motion design and directing commercials. It was just a calling. Some things happen in your life sometimes. Film is not a choice, it's just a way of communicating with the world. It's not something I reflect on, it's just something I wake up knowing I'm going to do in some way. I think that my turning point as a filmmaker came when I went to The Actors Studio. All of the work got connected to the words themselves and to the story and the conflict. And that is where the directing emerged—whether you were working with an actor or a cinematographer. I think that was the transformative moment for me—from moving to short-form, visually-dazzling commercials to something that is telling a story.
AFS: How did you come up with the idea for "Patang"?
PB: I saw my uncles flying when I was a kid on my mom's and my dad's side. They just looked up at the sky with such joy and it was like a pure meditation in a way. All their thoughts and doubts were forgotten. I remember just seeing the Uttarayan festival on a smaller scale in my dad's hometown. It doesn't matter who you were—if you were young or old, Hindu or Muslim. When you had a kite in your hand, it was just this pure joy. It was this simple way as a metaphor to bring together family drama.
AFS: Why did you choose to set the film in Ahmedabad?
PB: I chose Ahmedabad largely because of how they celebrate the festival. I was told that if I wanted to do something based on kites, you have to visit Ahmedabad. When I went there, it was a breathtaking spectacle. Everyone is on their rooftops—speakers blasting and dancing. I had not seen anything like it. That is why I chose to set the film there. Through years of research, that is when I found that I wanted to tell the story of the resilience of the community. I didn't want to focus on the tragedy. People of Ahmedabad treat tragedy very different from other places in the world. In New York, we've had 9/11 and there is so much discussion and looking back and helping each other with the grief. In Ahmedabad, people don't mention it. It's a different way of moving forward. That is something that I had to address in the film.
AFS: How did you do your casting for "Patang"?
PB: We spent three years researching the film. I'd go there [Ahmedabad], live in the community, come back and write. We shot about 100 hours of footage during that period. Through that, I found out the way I wanted to work with my actors. It was a really community-based film. We shot in traffic, in a store when things were happening with a mix of actors and non-actors. With the kids, it was really a great process. We worked with twelve kids and did a two-month workshop with them teaching them discipline, techniques and helping them get comfortable with each other. In every scene, everyone was experiencing what was really happening. For example, Bobby was a local actor at a university who had never acted before. He was an amazing kite flier but he had this naiveness to him. When we did the film he had never kissed a girl before. So, the first scene we did—that was his first kiss.
AFS: What do you think a New York audience will take away from seeing this film?
PB: I think they will be happier with their own lives. There is a line by the actress, "If you think we hold onto our past with sadness, then you're wrong. We hold onto our happiness, our little, little happiness." I think that really summarizes what the essence of the film is and how it celebrates family and how the celebration of the festival heals these fractured relationships. I think it's a film that requires your emotional participation...by experiencing the film you'll walk away with a little more brightness in your life.
"Patang" will be screened on Thursday, April 21 at 8:30 P.M. at the Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 4. It will also be screened on April 24, 25, 29 and 30.