'Patang' brings Gujarat's kite flying to Berlinale

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By Mehru Jaffer

Berlin, Feb 3 (IANS) Jaideep Punjabi and Prashant Bhargava, two New Yorkers of Indian origin, have glided into town with "Patang", a cheerful film about the people of Ahmedabad, in the hope of bagging the coveted 50,000 euro prize for the best first feature at this year's Berlinale.

"I chose to bring the pride of Ahmedabad to the big screen. I chose not to focus on the riots or the beautiful architecture but on Ahmedabad's living heritage - the people living in the city," Bhargava, the writer and director of the film, told IANS.

Six years in the making, Bhargava's most exhilarating experience was organising workshops for children from the poorest of the poor in the city that is often wounded after hate and violence are unleashed by its people against one another. Ahmedabad is the principal city of Gujarat which saw communal violence in 2002.

"These children had experienced tremendous adversity in their young lives, but their smile and laughter were infectious. It is the work of the kids that shines brightest in the film and sets the bar for the performance of professional actors," said Bhargava about his first feature film.

The film soars beyond fractured families and fragile dreams against the colourful background of India's most breathtaking kite festival and a foot-tapping musical score that includes the rocking number "Chali chali re patang meri chali re..." from the 1957 film "Bhabhi".

Bhargava, a Cornell University graduate in computer science, earlier made the short film "Sangam" which was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. He began his career in the arts as a graffiti artist in his hometown Chicago. After learning theatrical directing at The Actors Studio MFA program, Bhargava has been directing, designing commercials, music videos, title sequences and promos for almost 15 years.

"Patang" is the story of Bhargava's own family caught up in property and relationship disputes. Raised in America, Bhargava was struck by the simple beauty and pride of the people when he first arrived in the old city of Ahmedabad. He left other members of his family to sort out family duels to walk the lanes of the city to discover the people who lived there.

During his wanderings he was overjoyed at the sight of millions of kites in the heavens dragged by people who did not care whether they were Hindu, Muslim, rich or poor. Bhargava describes this experience as mediation in its purest form.

"I broke every rule possible in making this film. The conflict in the script is subtle. Scenes were not rehearsed but improvised with a crew of largely non-actors. The film was shot with a crew of less than 10 people and both Shankar, the director of photography, and myself shot the film handheld with two small HD cameras. Editing was a two-year process of distilling a scripted narrative from 200 hours of documentary-like footage," he said.

The effort paid off when Berlinale agreed to premier "Patang", which is in competition with 38 other films from around the world that are showcased for their original, provocative and disturbing themes. Berlinale opens Feb 10.

"I am touched to have 'Patang' in the midst of such great work, at such a prestigious festival," Bhargava said.

"Patang" will premier Feb 12 here and is the only Indian film to do so at the Forum, considered to be the most experimental section of the Berlinale.

In total, "Patang" will enjoy five screenings at the festival which closes Feb 20.

The cash prize is divided equally between the producer and director of the prize-winning film but the director is awarded a high quality viewfinder as well as both a useful instrument and memorable trophy since 2006 when the Forum was set up to support and encourage a next generation of film makers.

Producer Punjabi told IANS: "The strength of my film lies in its originality. It is a shining example of a new breed of Indian cinema similar to 'Udaan', 'Dhobi Ghat', 'Vihir', 'Peepli Live' and 'Love, Sex aur Dhokha' that is increasingly appreciated today by audiences and critics alike. This kind of cinema brings fiercely independent stories to the screen that are a honest reflection of contemporary Indian life."

A graduate of New York University's Stern School of Business, this is Punjabi's first feature film. In 2001, Punjabi made "Parallel Cinema", a feature length documentary on 25 contemporary film directors making innovative films in India today.

(Mehru Jaffer can be contacted at [email protected] )