All the splendor and valor that is embodied in the great Gujarati tradition of festive kite flying is on full display at select theaters across the United States, as Prashant Bhargava’s Patang officially released in the likes of Chicago and New York on June 15. With more theatrical releases in store, Mr. Bhargava’s debut feature about an honor tradition of kite flying has made quite an impression in certain high profile film circles. The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles dubbed Patang its closing night feature back in April, while just hours before the film’s June 15 release Roger Ebert dished out his blessing of Mr. Bhargava’s production. Last October, Patang won Best Narrative Feature at the Washington, D.C., Asian Pacific American Film Festival.
A film intricately weaving the stories of six people who are all transformed by the India’s largest kite festival in the Gujarat city of Ahmedabad, Patang narrates a tale that is told through a series of vivid images, powerful music, and intriguing on-screen performances by actors and non-actors alike.
Mr. Bhargava spent a few minutes speaking with Buzzine Bollywood from his hometown of Chicago on the heels of his debut film’s release. He chats about the score, the visuals, and how his film became the pride of Gujarat.
Parimal M. Rohit: One element of Patang that stands out the most is its music and score. How did you interweave both elements so seamlessly the film to greatly enhance the already vivid storytelling?
Prashant Bhargava: For the score, I worked with Mario Grigorov, who is a Bulgarian composer based in L.A. His initial experimentations or proposals, I didn’t like much. It was a very general Indian sounds, you know. This (the movie’s narrative) is done in Ahmedabad and I wanted something a little bit more specific. I suggested to him I come down to L.A. and meet. It was an interesting process; we sat together for a week. Like two actors communicating, we just got into the zone. We wanted to focus more upon (the) larger thematic repetitive elements and the characters themselves. I worked with my music supervisor, Shivani Aluwalia. She put together a group of producers; one was from Denmark … and another group … from Brazil. I never met any of these guys. It was all over the Internet. I would provide them the same kind of moments that’s happening between the characters, whether it was the nighttime in the market or on the rooftops … when there is a dance party. I was just blown away how we established this camaraderie through the Internet. I love the flavor that’s come out and it’s slightly different from normal Bollywood productions.
PMR: A film about an endless sea of kites flying in the beautiful blue sky requires you to make this film rather visual, right?
PB: For the visuals, when you are on the rooftops of Ahmedabad, they play everything, from Queen’s “We Are The Champions” to Bollywood hits to Gujarati tracks to Sean Paul. Everything goes. It’s just big beats and everyone is dancing. I really wanted to capture that vibe.
PMR: Let’s elaborate on that vibe and the film’s visuals. Tell us how you were able to perfectly blend the film’s visuals with the music and score.
PB: I came from motion designs, doing a lot of visual effects, music videos, commercials. Some of these more exuberant sequences like the kite battle. I was inspired by a Nike commercial, a World Cup commercial where they had extravagant sound design and hard beats. I remember our sound designer doing some really interesting stuff paralleling the kite battle sounds to a gladiator battle. Watching this one kite battle sequence, it’s off the hook with the sound design.
PMR: The obvious question: Why a feature film on a kite festival? Where did your inspiration come from? What motivated you to make Patang?
PB: I’m from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh and I saw my uncles fly kites. When I went to Ahmedabad for the first time and saw this festival, and more importantly saw how this particular festival and festivals in general in Gujarat, play such a vital role to rejuvenation of the people there. Whether there is tragedy or it’s the riots or a natural disaster that’s happened with the earthquakes or just regular tensions everyday, this festival is something that allows people to reconnect with their own spirit in a very joyous way. There’s a celebration aspect. That’s the thematic foundation of the film. Whether you are a Hindu or Muslim, rich or poor, younger or older, everyone’s on the rooftop flying. All the differences go away. It’s like Carnival in Rio. I’m just amazed how people handle tragedy through celebration; heal through celebration.
PMR: You did three years of research on this project. What about that research can you share with us? What stood out for you?
PB: I grew up on the south side of Chicago, lived in Brooklyn for 16 years. For me to go to India and do a film there, I was very conscious that I had an outsider point of view and romanticism. I wanted to let go of that and capture something that the people of Ahmedabad would feel proud about. That’s what motivated the research. I would go (to Gujarat) one to three months every year. I remember the first year being very timid. By my third year, I was able to hold the camera two feet from someone in the Old City. Coming often, (I was able to understand) the written and unwritten codes of the place, the way that faith is really strong there, … they would just be themselves in front of the camera. The process was very much just interviewing and observing. We had 100 hours of research footage. That research footage became storyboards eventually. I had no storyboards. I just showed these clips of things that I shot. It was really a beautiful process.
PMR: Is another film in India on tap? What is on tap for you?
PB: I just finished a project with Vijay Iyer. It’s based on Stravinsky’s “Right of Spring.” I shot it in Madurai during Holi for 10 days. It’s going to be an experimental feature with a live orchestra coming out next year. My other project takes place on the south side of Chicago on the golf courses around where I grew up. It’s a coming of age story of a 19-year-old kid. I feel very proud that Patang is a distinctly Indian film in the texture of it and the intimacy. The people of Ahmedabad feel very proud. I do feel very far apart from my counterparts in the independent Indian film movement. The way that we both see the world is very different. It’s very exciting what’s happening in India, with so much stuff coming out. Patang was Nawaz Siddiqui’s first feature role. We did all sorts of crazy, innovative things that are now becoming really part of a lot of other people’s work in the movement. I hope to return to India and do another feature soon.
‘Patang’ is now playing in select cities across the United States. It opens in Toronto and Vancouver on June 22, in San Francisco on June 29, and then in Los Angeles in July.