How do you review a movie like Patang, a film about a business-man from Delhi visiting his family in Ahmedabad during the Kites festival? A movie that's so lyrical, so heartfelt and so intimate that it feels like you're reading someone's diary rather than watching a movie. Like going through their childhood photo albums. Every frame of this film feels like a snapshot of a very private moment between the director and the city of Ahmedabad, with its kites in the sky, its busy streets, its cascading rooftops and its fascinating people.
Don't let the trailer fool you: Patang is not a fast-paced documentary of city life set to bouncy music. Though there is excellent music in it. Patang is an elegantly choreographed medley of moments, all strung together by an invisible thread, like the lantern kite that Jayesh flies at the end of the Festival day. The glimpses we get of each character's life flicker and dance in front of us just long enough to get us hooked but never bright enough to allow a full examination of their situation. Which is just as well because this is not the type of movie to hint at what will happen to the characters after the last frame, in fact, this is not a "happening" movie at all. This is the type of movie where you're enjoying every minute you spend with them, wishing it would never end. It's a movie where you're just happy to be there.
We've seen a lot of movies lately trying to juxtapose the big city life of well-off entrepreneurs with the simple life of small-towners, but I have yet to come across a film that does it more sensitively than Patang. There's no good versus evil, no poor versus rich, no right and wrong. More importantly no one is judging from behind the camera, and when there is resentment in front of the camera, such as Chakku's bitterness towards his uncle, it's presented as such, not as some philosophical reproach towards the soul-less business people. Most of the times we don't even realize we're seeing a clash between the two worlds, though the battle of the kites is a clear indication that this is what the film is after.
Jayesh has been successful in business in Delhi, but he now spends less time with his daughter, Priya, and probably no time at all with his wife who chose a wine tasting over this weekend of family time. His mother on the other hand complains constantly about the discomfort of her life, but refuses to be moved to a modern home. Priya on her side is constantly documenting the feel of Ahmedabad with her camera, but she rejects the feelings of a local boy considering them unimportant. Bobby, the local boy, dreams of going away from Ahmedabad and his father's electronics shop, but he whole-heartedly praises the city's unique charm to Priya in an attempt to make her stay. This happens with everyone in the film: more than the battle between the two worlds, we see a little battle within each character, each desperately trying to reconcile their big dreams with the little joys of simple life.
In a film so rich in subtext there's always the danger of creating an artificial distance with the viewer who is not given enough surface to land on in order to dig deeper. But the director finds a way to retain the intimacy of our relationship with the characters by physically shortening that distance with close-ups and detail-focused compositions, giving the film that home-video feel. If home-videos could ever look so gorgeous, that is.
Of course a lot of the credit also goes to the actors, 90% of them actually non-actors, as the director pointed out to us at the Toronto screening, who bring such a natural, unrehearsed feel to the film.
The one line that stayed with me from the whole film is said by Soudha to her brother-in-law towards the end of the film. She says, and I quote from memory: "I don't like it when the kites battle in the skies and they cut each other. I like it when they soar high, as high as they can." And so it is that after the numerous micro-clashes that take place during the film, what soars above it all through the wisdom of these words is the ability to accept everyone for who they are. At the end of the film we leave the characters almost the same way we found them, but maybe, hopefully, just a tiny step closer to each other.
How do you review a movie like Patang? Not surprisingly the answer is you don't. You just try to pour enough love on the page to ensure others will go see it too. That's really all you can do.
Patang (2011, Hindi)
Director: Prashant Bhargava
Starring: Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Seema Biswas, Sugandha Garg
5 days ago