Meet the 2011 Tribeca Filmmakers | “The Kite” Director Prashant Bhargava

Meet the 2011 Tribeca Filmmakers | "The Kite" Director Prashant Bhargava

A poetic journey to the old city of Ahmedabad, “Patang” (The Kite) weaves together the stories of six people transformed by the energy of India’s largest kite festival. Every year a million kites fill the skies above Ahmedabad – dueling, soaring, tumbling and flying high. When a successful Delhi businessman takes his daughter on a surprise trip back to his childhood home for the festival, an entire family has to confront its own fractured past and fragile dreams. Music and fireworks, food and laughter, a kaleidoscope of color and light, the magic of the kite flying high – a traditional recipe of healing and renewal. With naturalistic performances from actors and non–actors alike, bold, lyrical editing, vibrant cinematography and a kinetic score, [“The Kite”] delights the senses and nourishes the spirit. [Synopsis courtesy of the filmmaker]

“The Kite”
World Narrative
Cast & Credits
Primary Cast: Seema Biswas, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sugandha Garg, Mukund Shukla, Aakash Mahayera, Hamid Shaikh
Director(s): Prashant Bhargava
Screenwriter: Prashant Bhargava
Producer(s): Jaideep Punjabi
Editor: Prashant Bhargava
Director of Photography: Shanker Raman
Production Designer: Meera Lakhia
Executive Producer: Vijay Bhargava, Jaideep Punjabi
Composer: Mario Grigorov

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Tribeca Narrative, Documentary and Viewpoints sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

Responses courtesy of “The Kite” director Prashant Bhargava.

Finding the drive to become a filmmaker…

During college, I experienced some major obstacles and health problems. The experience propelled me to recognize something deeper within me and those around me. So I went to the Actors Studio at the New School to study theatrical directing. I always have been a student of film, obsessively watching, dissecting and dreaming. Wong Kai Wai, Terrence Malick and Satyajit Ray have been inspirations. To put it simply, making films makes me feel alive. When all the pieces come together, it’s the best high ever.

Inspiration derived from kites…

The seeds for the movie “Patang” (The Kite) were based on the memories of my uncles dueling kites. In India, kite-flying transcends boundaries. Rich or poor, Hindu or Muslim, young or old – together the people look towards the sky with wonder, thoughts and doubts forgotten. Kite flying is meditation in its simplest form.

In 2005, I visited Ahmedabad to experience their annual kite festival, the largest in India. When I first witnessed the entire city on their rooftops, staring up at the sky, their kites dueling ferociously, dancing without inhibition, I knew I had to make this film in Ahmedabad. I became acquainted with its unwritten codes of conduct, its rhythms and secrets. I would sit on a street corner for hours at a stretch and just observe. Over time, I connected with shopkeepers and street kids, gangsters and grandmothers. This process formed the foundation for my characters, story and approach to shooting the film. Fractured relationships, property disputes, the meaning of home and the spirit of celebration were recurring themes that surfaced. My desire was for the sense of poetry and aesthetics to be a view that emerged from the pride of the people and place.

“Preserving the naturalism of the environment guided every decision during filming…”

I discovered the story by collecting 100 hours of research footage, interviewing residents of the old city and members of my family, sitting in kite shops for hours and experiencing the kite festival. Ahmedabad is a place that has endured religious violence and natural disaster in the recent past. Instead of focusing on tragedy, I sought to make a story that captured the residents’ spirit of perseverance, resilience and pride.

Shot on location with a cast of both non-actors and professionals, my film draws from the neo-realist tradition. Preserving the naturalism of the environment guided every decision during filming, from shooting style to crew size to the process with the actors. To encourage this naturalism and immediacy, I encouraged my cast and crew to live together.

Rooftop sequences were created with a group of friends, non-actors who had been flying kites together for thirty years. Seema Biswas co-hosted these celebrations in character. I had the cast improvise, shooting them in long takes. I would whisper their objectives to them, to bring out the dramatic elements of the scene. Shanker Raman, director of photography, and myself shot simultaneously with two small HD cameras. We would approach the shooting as actors ourselves, quietly dancing between the actor’s performances.

Overcoming obstacles..

We broke every possible rule in making “The Kite.” Often during the process, we were told that what we were trying to do was crazy. Every phase of making this film for the past six years has been filled with challenges, from raising the capital from private sources, convincing my crew to have faith in my unconventional approach, to editing 200 hours of documentary-like footage.

The shoot required letting go of conventional methods and working with one’s heart and instinct. Most of the seasoned professionals were used to having more control over their environment during filming. Maintaining the enthusiasm and objectivity was a challenge. I sacrificed relationships, a profitable career and a stable home in pursuit of this film. So many times it felt the film would not happen. I recall that I wanted to throw in the towel many times. Somehow I couldn’t. Making the film was part of my own journey of my manhood. I had to.

Editing your own film is especially difficult. You have attachments to moments that do not serve the story. I spent two years editing the film on my own. I would stop for weeks and feel stuck. Then something magical would happen and I’d see the material in a different way. I had to constantly shift perspectives from the writer/director, to the editor to the audience.

Art imitating life…

For the role of Bobby, a young kite phenomenon in the film, we cast Aakash Maheriya. He was one of the best kite flyers I’ve seen. I instructed him to read only half the script. During the first take, Priya (played by Sugandha Garg) surprised him by kissing him mid-scene. It was his first kiss on camera and in real life! It was an amazing take. The loss of innocence, surprise and wonder he felt was real.

Working with the children was also an exhilarating experience. We began by conducting a workshop with twelve children. We played theater games to build trust, discipline and freedom in front of the camera. Many of the children had seen adversity in their past, yet their smiles and laughter were pure. We chose Hamid as our lead child actor, because he was so effortless in front of the camera; he had an uncanny wisdom and persistence in his expression. During the shoot, we never shared the script with the kids. The kids never acted; they were always themselves.

In one scene (which was unfortunately cut from the film), Chakku, the hot tempered wedding singer played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui, has befriended Hamid, the boy who works at the kite shop. They mischievously attempt to steal some sunglasses. The sound recordist, my assistant directors, my director of photography and myself hid. Chakku and Hamid were slyly shoplifting sunglasses. Midway through the take, they got caught and a mob surrounded them. It was tense. Nawazuddin was about to be beaten. At the last minute, I quickly rushed in and explained we were doing a film. Luckily everything worked out.

Potential projects…

I am exploring two ideas, both dramas. One is set in India and the other is based on a novel set in New York. “The Kite” is only the beginning.

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