Let’s go fly a kite with our dysfunctional family

Do you have fond memories of flying a kite? My father made simple kites and some more complicated ones. I recall winning a contest with a kite constructed of five circles attached in a configuration of three on top and two at the bottom. The theme was America the Beautiful and it was appropriately red, white and blue.

The kite is gone as is all things that my father made me, much to my regret. The memories are not. My father preferred to take us flying box kites at the local high school field. Fine memories that perhaps inspired my frequent dreams of flying. The 2011 movie, “Patang” is about a citywide kite festival in Ahmedabad and illustrates how families can be complicated despite shared memories of joy.

Don’t confuse this with the 1970 “Kati Patang,” an Indian Hindi movie about a woman who allows people to believe she’s a widow. “Patang” was written and directed by Prashant Bhargava and shows a delicate sense of family ties and cultural conflicts between the old and the new.

Patang specifically refers to fighter kites. And we learn a bit about the festival which takes place in spring as Basant Panchami. The color yellow figures in this movie and in India, it’s considered a color of good luck and spirituality. Yellow or a yellowish orange is connected both with Buddha and the goddess Saraswati (or Sarasvati), the goddess of knowledge. She is also the guardian deity of Buddhism.

In “Patang” we are given insight into a family during the brief visit of the younger son Jayesh (Mukund Shukla) and his adult daughter Priya (Sugandha Garg) to their family home in Ahmedabad. Jayesh lives in Delphi which is coastal and by car about 8 hours to Ahmedabad according to Google Maps. His wife is “busy” but by that it means she couldn’t be bothered to come. She’s off wine tasting instead.

Jayesh arrives on 13 January, the day before the kite festival. He cautions his daughter to show more modesty than she would be required in Delphi and she films the experience.  Ba, Jayesh’s mother (Pannanben Soni) and Sudha (Seema Biswas), his sister-in-law and widow of his older brother, rush to make preparations without complaining even though Jayesh has only given them a 30-minute phone warning.

Bhargava takes us through the crowded streets where weddings are celebrated on the streets and cows roam, being fed by people. Cars, small trucks, motorcycles,  and golf-cart like taxis share the streets with bicycles and human-pulled vehicles in colorful, chaotic confusion. The buildings are all old and in various stages of decay. Jayesh’s old home has walls of faded and peeling paint.

The less than amiable affections aren’t isolated to the wife. Jayesh’s nephew, Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a wedding singer,  is an angry young man who blames Jayesh for his father’s death and resents his uncle’s affluence while accepting his generous gifts. The dead father is seen only in a photograph, but his presence is felt in Chakku’s burning resentment and his widow’s words to Jayesh.

There are two subplots that take us outside of the family. Priya has a brief flirtation with a man named Bobby (Aakash Maherya), but Priya knows this attraction won’t work out.  Then there’s the young boy Hamid (Hamid S#haikh) who connects the kites with Javesh and his nephew. Hamid works for the kitemaker who has been charged with making a special kite for Jayesh. Hamid is the one who introduces us to the yellow kite and Bhargava ties the people together through the kites.

In the air, religion and race and even gender doesn’t matter as much as skill. This is a kind of war with little bloodshed and minimal violence. If we can’t fly like the gods and goddesses or superheroes, we can at least take to the air vicariously through kites and work with the winds. For Bhargava, it is the women who see clearly and the men who must be gently guided.

In Hindi with English subtitles, “Patang” (The Kite) opens at the Laemmle Music Hall today, 20 July 2012, and this weekend (Friday-Sunday) the director Prashant Bhargava and the producer Jaideep Punjabi will be present for a Q&A after all 5 p.m. and later screenings.


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