Laneways bustling with a wedding party, little boys running to and fro, kites being made and delivered, kite strings coated with glittering glass and chosen with care. Rooftops where families and neighbours share delectable dishes, sing songs, remember the past. Kites that dip and swirl and soar on the skyline. This is Ahmedabad during the annual kite festival. This is the world that director Prashant Bhargava draws us into, a place where modern and traditional world views collide, and where a family’s emotions and conflicts mirror that of the kites in full flight and fight.
Jayesh (Mukkund Shukla), a successful businessman now living in Delhi, returns to his home in Ahmedabad, along with his daughter, Priya (Sugandha Garg) for a surprise visit during the annual kite festival. Ostensibly a trip to show his daughter the festival, Jayesh’s motives soon become clear to his family: he wants his mother to sign away the ancestral home so he can sell it and move them into a modern apartment he’s bought for them. Initially his family welcomes him – with the exception of his nephew Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), who harbours a bitter resentment against his uncle, whom he sees as responsible for the early death of his father. But it becomes apparent that there are old wounds in this family, and that it’s not just the distance between Delhi and Ahmedabad that separates Jayesh from his family.
Jayesh believes, as he has always done, that he knows what’s best – progress first and foremost. But instead of really considering what his family needs, what makes them happy, he judges them, and makes decisions for them about what they need (and what will make them happy). He recognizes that, as he puts it, every room in his ancestral home contains history; however, he just cannot see the value in it.
Each of the characters in this film is like one of the kites in the festival, individual, trying to seek out his or her own path to happiness. Some may continue to soar; some may be cut down far too soon, forced to deal with life’s harsh realities. Chakku is happy enough singing in a wedding band but must face his uncle’s disapproval of his choice; Bobby (Aakash Maheriya), completely smitten with city girl Priya, who left school to work in his father’s shop, and dreams of flying away. “Times have changed,” he tells Priya, “but my father has not.” Priya, who is happy flitting around Ahmedabad and filming it with her Super 8 camera (views that are incorporated into the film, and which heighten our sense of intimacy and being in the moment), and carrying on a flirt with Bobby, does not see the real Ahmedabad. Hamid (Hamid Shaikh), the little boy who lives and works on the streets, rejected by his grandmother unless he can bring her money, is the one voice of clarity who advises the adult Chakku, who says his uncle will never have a loss – “He will,” says Hamid, sagely. Sudha (Seema Biswaas), Jayesh’s sister-in-law, who surely, steadily, quietly looks after her mother-in-law, Ba (Pannaben Soni), and mends the rift in this family as surely and as delicately as she mends one of the fallen kites.
The film draws us into the lives and the laneways, the sounds envelop us, the music pulses, its rhythms taking us further and further into the streets and lanes of Ahmedabad, the camera view intimate, dipping and swirling like the kites themselves, taking us into the lives of these characters, showing us their thoughts, their secrets, their struggles, their anguish, their smiles.
Flying kites bring small moments of joy to each of these characters, allowing them, for a moment, to be free of the constraints and disappointments of their lives. Life, like the flight of a paper kite, is so fragile and delicate and beautiful, and happy. “Are you happy?” Sudha asks her brother-in-law at one point, making the point that for all his belief that progress involves letting go of the past, life is more complicated than that. And, yet, strangely, more simple, at the same time: “If you think we are holding onto our past with sadness,” Sudha tells Jayesh, “you are wrong. We hold onto our happiness. Our little, little happiness.”
Everything about Prashant Bhargava’s film will draw you in and make you feel a part of this place – the story, the visuals, the sounds, the music, the characters – especially the characters. But what will linger once the film is done are the moments of pure poetry: the change in Sudha’s expression when she realizes Jayesh is not just on the end of the phone, he’s actually in Ahmedabad; the gulf between two worlds summed up in one expression – “wine tasting”; Chakku eyeing his uncle’s gift of an iPod shuffle with wariness, his eyes flitting back and forth between the package and its wrapper; Chakku later wearing the ear buds, a sign that his grudging relationship with his uncle has, perhaps, taken a new turn; fireworks on a rooftop; Sudha gently mending a kite; kite strings laid out, ready to have ground glass applied to them; Sudha twisting and tearing a napkin in her hand as Jayesh talks about his brother’s drinking; the absence of the brother felt like a presence; Bobby rolling the little car across the countertop towards Priya, and his almost bewildered expression when Priya kisses him; the squeak of the swing as Jayesh talks with his nephew, telling him he never sings; sunrise over Ahmedabad the morning of the kite festival; mouth-watering dishes handed around on plates; Hamid’s reaction when his grandmother closes the door on him. All of these flavour the film, lace it with sugar and spice, and stay on our minds long after Jayesh and Priya leave to return to Delhi. Patang shows us that we are like Hamid, his arm in a sling after a fall from the rooftops – we may fall, we may break, but we have the potential to heal, to mend, and to rise and soar again.