Interview w/ Director Prashant Bhargava of “PATANG”
21 Jul, 2012
“PATANG (THE KITE)”, a film directed by Prashant Bhargava and produced by Jaideep Punjabi, is a film that takes place in the old city of Ahmedabad, amid India’s largest kite festival. The film surrounds a Delhi businessman returning to his childhood home in Ahmedabad for India’s largest kite festival, which results in an entire family being forced to confront its own fractured past and fragile dreams. The film “PATANG”, a labor of love that took seven years to complete, is an amazing film with deeply moving themes such as love and generational conflict in the midst of intense clashes between tradition and modernity, old ways and new ways. “PATANG” is an emotionally moving film that takes the viewer on a journey of the heart, mind and soul. The film will be making its San Francisco, CA theatrical premiere at the AMC Metreon 16 on June 29th, as well as Big Cinemas in Fremont, CA. [Interviewed on May 29, 2012] For more information, visit: www.patang.tv/screenings.php and www.facebook.com/patangfilm
Dig In Magazine: Where did you grow up and where are you currently based?
Prashant Bhargava: I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. I lived in New York for 16 years and I just came back to Chicago.
DIM: What is your background as a filmmaker?
PB: I grew up doing a lot of graffiti and computer science. And I got into doing motion graphics for television. I did a lot of commercials for HBO and other clients branding their shows like Def Poetry Jam, The Wire and then, I went to the Actors Studio and did theatrical directing. And then following the Actors Studio I made a short film called Sangam which did well in the festivals and premiered in Sundance and won lots of awards. And then for the past 7 years I’ve been working on this film, “PATANG.” And so it’s been a long journey, but I’ve been in film and advertising for a long time now.
DIM: What is it that draws you to filmmaking?
PB: There comes a time in your life when [while] making films you feel the most alive doing it. So for me…I don’t try to dig into it deep, but it’s what I do and how I share whatever I have to give to the world.
DIM: How did the idea for “PATANG” come about?
PB: When I used to visit India when I was young, my uncles used to fly kites, battle kites and all of that. And it was a whole ritual behind it in terms of the preparation of the thread. When they would fly and the people around on other roof tops it didn’t matter who they were, rich or poor, Hindu [or] Muslim, they would just stare at the sky with wonder and forget about all the tensions that they were experiencing. So, I felt it was this meditation in a very pure form. And I thought that it would be a really great metaphor for a drama and I began by visiting Ahmedabad. I saw this kite festival there [with] a million kites in the air [with] everybody on their rooftops and how significant this event was for the city itself…the transformation. There is such an energy there. It’s a holiday known as Uttarayan and it is known as the day the wind changes direction. It’s a seasonal holiday. Everybody is on their rooftops and celebrating and so I really was drawn to that. I did 3 years of research getting to know the community talking with gamblers and kite makers, grandmothers and kids. And it was through that research that I really discovered the stories. Eventually I found that a lot of my own family background and experiences worked themselves into the narrative. Each one of the characters in some way is also a part of me.
DIM: Where was “PATANG” shot?
PB: “PATANG” was shot in Ahmedabad, which is in the state of Gujarat, a state in India.
DIM: I understand that “PATANG” took many years to make, how long did it take and what drove you to finish it?
PB: The film took 7 years. I did 3 years of research. So, it was very important for me during that time to let go of my perspective and really develop a story that people from Ahmedabad could feel very proud of and let go of my outsider point of view. So, I would spend a month to 3 months there and write. We shot a hundred hours of research footage and it was through that process that I really began to understand how to allow people to live on screen. And that everyday magic was something I was very drawn to. Then, we did 6 months of preparation for the shoot and shot for 2 months. And following that, because we shot with 90 percent non-actors, it was 200 hours of footage. So, it took 2 years to edit the film on my own and eventually we also collaborated with the editor Joe Klotz, whose done “Precious,” “Junebug,” and “Rabbit Hole.” And did the sound design. This was truly an independent film. We did not go to any of the Sundance labs or studios to make the film. It was a private investment. So managing that and really building the trust with individuals who invested in the film took some time.
DIM: When watching the film, I saw that themes of generational conflict, traditional versus modern Indian culture and love emerge, what in life inspired your focus on these specific themes that run throughout the film?
PB: Initially I saw those differences when I was growing up between the U. S. and India. But when I began to really explore deeply I found that India is such a diverse place and the big cities of Delhi and Mumbai [with] the experiences of youth there in terms of their sexual awareness or worldly awareness was something that really contrasted the ways of the old city. At the same time, the power of culture and exuberance as celebrated in these festivals for the city of Ahmedabad was something very powerful. And I thought this film had to be something that captured many different points of view. And how each particular character, whether they’re a successful Delhi businessman or a local wedding singer or a pimp that works at a kite shop…everyone goes through some sort of transformation during this festival. And I felt that it was a great way to explore these various conflicts of tradition and modernity, and the old ways and the new ways. And you have the central theme of the house throughout the film, which is a point of major discussion. But it also represents where the family came from and where they are going.
DIM: How did you find the actors for the film?
PB: That was really interesting. We had 3 actors that had done work prior, which were Seema Biswas, who played the role of Sudha, Nawaz Siddiqui, who played the role of the Wedding Singer [Chakku], and Sugandha Garg who played the role of Priya. And everyone else had never acted before in a film. For the non-actors I was trying to find people that actually were those people in real life as in the film. For example, [for] Bobby, who is a nineteen year old, it was not only his first kiss on camera [as a character], [but] it was his first kiss in real life. So, a lot of effort was made to find the people as they really were and always pair a non-actor with an actor.
As far as the actors, Seema Biswas, who played the role of Sudha, was very well-known. She played the role of “Bandit Queen”. She’s an amazing actress, so I was very happy that she came on board. She really jumped on board when she saw how we were working with the community and how much it was a family atmosphere. And how people were really close. [For] Nawaz Siddiqui, that was his first feature film role. And now he has just had 3 films in Cannes and he is having over 8 films released this year in India. He is being heralded as one of India’s finest emerging actors for the independent movement. And Sugandha Garg was just an adventurous personality who really had a lot of energy. Her own confidence in herself, I just felt was Priya. I met her in Mumbai and we did some tests working with the kids and I was just drawn to her. So, for those 3 roles it was a traditional casting process, but for the non-actors it was just meeting someone, looking in their eyes and asking them “can you act in a film?” and if they said it with confidence and they were those people, after doing all that research and working with the local community, I knew they would do a great job. Bobby was interesting, because we had 60 young guys on the rooftop and he was the first one to be flying a kite and the last one. There was this naiveness to him as well and I just felt he was perfect.
DIM: Has “PATANG” been shown in India? And if so, what was the reception like?
PB: We’ve shown it a couple times. But prior to Berlin we showed the film for the first time in Ahmedabad, where the film was shot. So, a lot of the cast and crew, [with] extended family and community. And I was really touched that the film was an anthem for their city and their story. There was a lot of pride. They wanted the songs to be a little bit longer, but other than that it was something that they really connected with. And then we showed the film at a lot of private screenings in Mumbai. And we’ve gotten a lot of enthusiasm from other filmmakers in the community there. And we’re working towards a release of the film in India this Fall. So, we’re very excited about that!
DIM: And I understand that “PATANG” screened at the 34th Mill Valley Film Festival, what other festivals has the film been featured at and what awards have you won for the film so far?
PB: We’ve been in 25 festivals. The major ones are the world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. We were also in Tribeca in the main competition. Other significant festivals have been the Chicago Film Festival, Mill Valley, Vancouver…we won the Best Narrative Feature Award at the Hawaii Film Festival. Also, the D.C. APA Film Festival…we won an award there as the Best Film. And one of the things I am really proud of is that Roger Ebert selected “PATANG” as one of 12 films at Ebert Fest this past April. And so he’s really enjoyed the film. And so it was showcased there. It’s also been opening night at many festivals [such as] the Granada Film Festival. Also, we were closing night at the Indian Film Festival in Los Angeles.
DIM: Where else will “PATANG” be screened and what other festivals will it been screened at?
PB: On June 15th, we are going to do the theatrical release and it is premiering in Chicago, New York, and in New Jersey. So, a lot of our efforts are focused right now on the theatrical release of the film. On June 22nd, the film opens up in Vancouver and Toronto, and also suburban Chicago. And on June 29th, we have the Big Cinemas Theater in Fremont, CA, as well as we’re securing our San Francisco venue.