Patang, which means “kite” in Hindi, I believe, is possibly the most divisive film shown during Ebertfest this year. It’s an Indian film, made by a young Chicagoan named Prashant Bhargava, that has dazzling visuals but left many people (at least that I overheard) say “what was the point?”.
When Patang first started rolling the projection framing was totally wrong, like the picture had been zoomed. After about 5 minutes of movie, where the subtitles were cut off completely, Prashant came back on stage briefly, rapped for us (literally), then explained that the film was shot in a unique aspect ratio, 2:1, so he understood the issues. We then restarted the movie, to everyone’s delight.
Aside from the aspect ratio, Patang is visually stunning film. It is wildly colorful and is broken up by unique handheld sections which are from the point of view of one of the main characters. The plot itself is where other festival goers seemed to lose interest. A rich man and his daughter come back to their home town of Ahmedabad for the traditional kite festival where there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of kites being flown. As the film unravels we learn more about the family and some of their struggles. There are several messages hidden in the film, but I do not wish to spoil it.
I can see why people would be quick to write Patang off, but that is not fair to the material. The story of family is strong here and there is a fresh new filmmaking voice in Prashant. It may not have a tightly focused narrative and it doesn’t wrap everything in a bow at the end, but that is life. We are viewing this family’s life for only a few days out of the year, we are not meant to know everything that has happened or will happen to them, it’s a snapshot in time.
The use of non-actors really helps sell Patang, too. The characters are all believable and while I’ve never traveled to India, I would be surprised to find a more realistic portrayal. If nothing else, Patang is a unique film and that is what small festivals like Ebertfest are for. Even those that left the theater nonplussed by it have seen a film that few others have seen, and very few will likely even get the chance to see.
Unfortunately, I did not stick around for the Q&A session, which apparently had a stage full of people. If you’re interested, it is available for streaming in the links below. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the pronunciation is similar to puh-tah-ng.
I give it 4 out of 5.
Some interesting Ebertfest links: