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Old City, New Film

© Patang – Kushi Productions

Many of you know I’ve been photographing the Uttarayan kite festival in India for a number of years now. While teaching at the National Institute of Design (NID) for a couple of years from 2005, I lived close to the action in Ahmedabad’s Old City. This week I was back there for the chaos, colour and celebration of the annual festival. My visit was made even more special as I attended a warmly hosted private screening of the superb film Patang which will officially premiere in at the Berlin Film Festival next month.

Patang (Hindi for ‘kite’) is set in the Old City where a family duels, spins and soars like the countless kites in the skies above. During it’s poetic journey, the film weaves together the stories of six people transformed by the energy of India’s largest kite festival. When a successful Delhi businessman takes his daughter on a 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 (Seema Biswas, Nowaz, Sugandha Garg) and non-actors alike – bold, lyrical editing, vibrant cinematography and a kinetic score – Patang enchants the senses and nourishes the spirit.

Patang features three interwoven stories. Image of kite-string paste by yours truly.

The seeds for Patang were planted in 2005, when script-writer and director Prashant Bhargava’s travels to Ahmedabad coincided with Uttarayan. “When I first witnessed the entire city on their rooftops, staring up at the sky, their kites dueling ferociously, dancing without inhibition, I had to make this film.” He returned for the next three years, documenting his experiences with over a hundred hours of video footage. Slowly immersing himself in the ways of the Old City, he became acquainted with its unwritten codes of conduct, its rhythms and secrets. Prashant would sit on street corners for hours at a stretch taking in the nuances of daily life. Over time he connected with shopkeepers and street kids, gangsters and grandmothers. This process formed the foundation for developing the characters and story. As he began writing, Prashant realised that capturing the spirit of the festival and the city – its beauty and flow, joy and strength – would require multiple narratives. And so Patang found its shape as three interwoven stories centering on a family that reunites for the kite festival. Patang’s message and cinematic style developed organically from the deep roots of life in the Old City. Prashant reflects: “The sense of poetry and aesthetics became less of an imposed view and more of one that emerged from the pride, the people, the place.”

One of my stills, shot in Ahmedabad’s Old City, from Patang’s opening sequence.

Some of my photographs were featured in the title sequence – but Prashant far surpasses my efforts to capture the flavour, festivities and texture of Uttarayan during the film. I was especially proud to hook up the production crew with my über-talented former student Satya Rajpurohit of the Indian Type Foundry, who’s multi-lingual typeface also features in the opening titles. I managed to join Patang’s crew, actors and friends on a fabulously located rooftop during Uttarayan this week as the sun set and the sky filled with kites followed by floating lanterns and fireworks. An upbeat track from the film ended up on high rotation and I’d pick that it will be a city-wide hit during the festival’s quintessential rooftop musical rivalry next year.

From the Patang rooftop this week. Photo by yours truly.

While the sun went down on yet another Uttarayan, my head was filled with rich memories from the Patang shoot, reflections on the film itself and thoughts of the Old City where my forefathers lived and loved.

Disclosure: I previously dated Prashant for 2 years, across 5 cities and 3 continents. Most likely that makes me a tad biased – though I’m sure those of you who manage to catch the film in upcoming months will surely appreciate his achievements.

Related posts:
Uttarayan Kite Festival (Flickr)
High Flyers of Gujarat (The Guardian)

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Prashant Bhargava January 18, 2011, 10:20 PM

    Thanks for the lovely review! Had such
    an indescribable time making the film and sharing it.
    Ahmedabad ka pyaar!

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