It took roughly seven years for Prashant Bhargava, a Chicago-born writer and director with Indian ancestry, to research, write, and film Patang (The Kite), a story that centers around an annual kite festival in the Indian city of Ahmedabad. And after all those years and all that work, he produced what amounts to the film equivalent of a beautiful piece of abstract art. Speaking of art, forgive me for not including the real names of the actors involved. They’re poetic, but they’re also a pain to look up because the film isn’t on IMDB, and I just don’t feel like making the effort to find everyone’s name. It’s very unprofessional, but I’m not yet a professional.
Jajesh is returning home a year after having left his family and city to open and operate a business that failed in India. Not only was it a failure, it also indirectly caused the death of his brother due to alcohol abuse. Upon returning, Jajesh attempts to right some wrongs but mainly through gifts and not necessarily his heart. He offers to move his family to a better, nicer home and a cleaner, nicer city while handing out material items like iPods to his nephew, who clearly hates him and blames him for the loss of his father. The nephew is also attempting to make a name for himself as a local rapper, barking out songs on the streets with a PA system, but he seems to pay more attention to himself than anyone else does.
The family is reluctant to accept him back, but they are not at all reluctant to accept Jajesh’s daughter Priya. She’s a beautiful teenager who dresses and acts a little more American than the family might prefer, but she’s still family. Or, family that hasn’t fled for money and from the guilt from bro-icide. Priyah carries a film camera wherever she goes. Not video, but film, which is clearly less convenient but likely for two reasons. One is that film cameras make sound, and it might be awkward for her to just aim a shiny object around without that stupid camera frame with the red light in the corner. Two, it’s probably the director’s nod to the days of actual film and movies in general.
Jajesh and Priya happen to return in time for an annual day of celebration and kite flying. Hundreds of them fill the air, zipping through the sky while also cutting each other’s strings and knocking them out of the sky. To make amends with the family, Jajesh orders a large package of kites to be delivered to his family for participating in the festival. Unfortunately, the kites do not get delivered, Jajesh seems to have failed, but it’s mostly his own fault. On the way home, Jajesh almost runs over a little boy who was chasing a bright yellow kite. Jajesh stops his car and picks up the kite, admiring it so much that he decides to keep it. Coincidence would have it that the boy was supposed to deliver those missing kites to Jajesh’s family. When the boy sees that it’s also the same guy who had taken his yellow kite earlier, that package of kites just doesn’t seem to make it.
The rest of the movie follows struggles on several fronts. Jajesh is trying win back his family’s respect. Bobby, a son of a local merchant, is trying to win the affection of Priyah, and the boys of the house are trying to win the kite-flying competition. The problem that I had with the film was that I just didn’t seem to care. Bobby seemed to be so taken with his own good looks that I didn’t want him to win Priyah’s affection. The boys of the family, who challenge each other to steal from the market, did nothing positive for me to care about them in the least. And Jajesh, who did not seem very emotionally invested, cared more about his own reputation than how his family really felt or what they really wanted. While I’m sure most people would be happy to move from a slummy apartment to a clean, new condo, it’s still preferable to maybe ask that family to get involved in the selection process instead of just saying, “Hey, you’re moving over here.” I also didn’t care much for Jajesh because he opened the film by stealing a kite from an innocent boy.
I greatly applaud writer and director Prashant Bhargava for being able to put together such a difficult film using regular people and only very few trained actors. However, in all those years of research, he could have also learned to pay attention to details. For example, when Jajesh takes his family to lunch in the middle of the day, he gets very upset with Priyah for disappearing literally for only ten minutes. However, during the evening of the kite festival, Priyah was gone for five hours, wandering the city with a hormone-enraged boy, and Jajesh doesn’t seem to wonder about her at all.
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It’s one of those films that I’m glad I saw, but it’s not a film that I’d recommend anyone else to see unless you keep in mind going in that you’re going to gain more from just the visuals than the actual story.