Film Review: PATANG (THE KITE) directed by Prashant Bhargava

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by Jason Rohrer on June 13, 2012

in Film

NOWHERE TO FLY TO

On a trip to the city of Ahmedabad several years ago, Chicagoan Prashant Bhargava found his parents’ native India as strange as it would be to any other tourist.  The specifically sub-continental mélange of Hindu and Muslim, the chaotic streets and promiscuous human intercourse, spurred Bhargava to invent and tell a story set in Ahmedabad.  He spent the next few visits getting to know the city’s people and their rhythms.  And over the course of many years’ labor, he succeeded in making Patang, a not very interesting and not at all surprising movie about this fascinating place.

This is the latest of the many post-millennial tone-poem films to exploit the developing world for the nostalgia it provides to sophisticates, like the people who make these movies and their presumptive audience.  In this universe, ethnic food takes the place of character; generational conflict (predictably presented as jarring, Westernizing progress vs. soothing old-world tradition) stands in for dramatic structure.  The camera tends to linger on the pattern of fabrics, on the swirl of clouds, as if it will find in them the missing elements of plot – or supplant those elements with something just as good.  These movies trivialize the cultures they mine, and insult their viewership with cheap tropes.  No real world is offered, no actual problems are solved.  Instead, a simplistic parade of cliché and platitude wipes our eyes with the emotion we know we’re supposed to feel.

Jason Rohrer’s film review of Patang (The Kite)As the central metaphor both of Patang‘s story and of the filmmaker’s failings, an annual festival fills the city skies with over a million kites.  The fliers stand on rooftops, trying to cut down their neighbors’ kites and gain ascendancy by severing strings in aerial duels.  The wealthy antagonist Jayesh (Mukkund Shukla) visits to inflict his will upon some poor relations and, no surprise, turns out to be a pretty good kite warrior.  But the production has not tools enough to make the kite battles visually coherent – the low-resolution video can barely capture the color of a kite, let alone its string.  And Bhargava’s decision to allow the mostly non-professional cast to improvise their scenes results in a similar problem: there’s not enough story or acting talent to compel this viewer through the 90 minute running time.

Jason Rohrer’s film review of Patang (The Kite)Several overfamiliar, underdeveloped lines of narrative run through this film.  Each of them is wound up in a less-than-satisfactory manner; none of them is worth discussing here.  Suffice to say that the director’s intention to allow mood to sweep away the need for conventions like drama (one develops around minute 58, only to have all its suspense removed at 1:03) has not been furthered by his inattention to logic and proportion.  When a widow, who slaves in poverty alongside her constantly complaining old mother-in-law, tells us that their lives could not be improved by material considerations, one of two truths is afoot.  Either she is insane (the movie suggests rather that she is correct), or the filmmaker has sacrificed sense for sentiment.

Jason Rohrer’s film review of Patang (The Kite)The two best performances in this movie – Seema Biswas as the widow Sudha, and Sugandha Garg as the teenager Priya – point up the imprudence of casting untrained actors beside accomplished pros.  You simply can’t allow your audience to be snapped out of the lovely sway of actresses this persuasive by the awkward posing of their co-stars.  It’s not fair to the lesser actors, to the project, or especially to the audience.

Jason Rohrer’s film review of Patang (The Kite)Patang (The Kite)
opens June 15, 2012 in limited release
for listings, visit http://www.patang.tv/

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