THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
When you think of films from India, what comes to mind? Probably you envisioned a big, splashy Bollywood musical. Those types of films have crossed cultural boundaries, even exerting some influence on mainstream American cinema and television. Patang is something quite different, though. If you can imagine the Indian equivalent of a Sundance Film Festival entry, you will have some idea of the tone. This is an ambitious picture, artfully made.
“Patang” means “kite,” which is appropriate since the movie is set against the backdrop of an annual kite festival. Jayesh (Mukund Shukla) is a wealthy Delhi businessman who takes teen daughter Priya (Sugandha Garg) to visit his family in Ahmedabad. Because he's so well off, Jayesh thinks nothing of telling his less affluent relatives how they should be living their lives. He thinks he's merely helping them, but his nephew Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) resents his intrusions. Meanwhile, Priya begins an adolescent flirtation with a guy named Bobby (Aakash Maherya), which doesn't entirely please her father. As the family prepares for and participates in the kite festival, their issues gradually come to the surface.
Patang does a fantastic job showing the various dynamics of this clan. It takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, with the camera hanging back and simply observing the conversations and conflicts. This gives it a very authentic feel. The film is smart about the way economic factors can impact families. Because Jayesh has done so well for himself, he thinks he can “upgrade” his relatives to a fancy condo, rather than the modest home in which they already live. What he doesn't understand is that his standards of success are not necessarily everyone else's. On the flip side, his motives are genuine, not malicious, and Chakku already has a grudge against him for a business decision that he feels was disadvantageous to his late father. The sorts of lingering familial resentments depicted here will likely be identifiable to many viewers. Naturalistic performances really help to sell director Prashant Bhargava's carefully observed drama.
The sequences showing the kite festival are stunning. The director allows long, static shots of the sky, filled with kites of all sizes and colors flying majestically. You'll want to take part in something just like it. A few short sequences explain the logistics, such as how ground glass is put into the string, so that skilled competitors can cut down the kites of others. I'd seen a previous movie set around a similar event (The Kite Runner), but that in no way detracts from Patang's beauty.
Where the film stumbles slightly is in narrative clarity. We're thrown right into the mix, so the characters are literally introduced with subtitles telling us their names and relation (i.e. “Sudha: Jayesh's sister-in-law”). Despite the on-screen score card, keeping track of who everyone is and what they are to one another is occasionally difficult. Also, a subplot involving a little boy gathering kites leads to a muddled payoff that isn't as dramatic as it seems to want to be.
While those flaws are unfortunate, Patang has enough visual elegance and observant family dynamics to make it worth seeing. There are no easy answers or pat resolutions here. The movie looks precisely and intriguingly at a family reaching an emotional crossroads in the midst of what is supposed to be a joyous celebration.
( out of four)
Patang is unrated but containes some strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.
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