Born and raised on the southside of Chicago, Prashant Bhargava
's interest in the arts began as a graffiti artist. Since then, he has evolved into an award winning filmmaker and commercial director/designer. With his signature “hypnotically beautiful visuals”, “naturalistic performances” and a “colorfully vivid” poetic style, Bhargava stands at the leading edge as a director with “original storytelling and honest craft”.
Bhargava took on Patang as a first time director. Through his journey, Bhargava discovered what it really means to be human.
Jatinder Bhan speaks candidly with Prashant Bhargava in an exclusive interview on his stance on Patang, filmmaking and finding peace beyond societal differences.
What drove you to Film Making?
It’s a calling. I began my career with a degree in computer science. I always enjoyed art especially from my younger days as a graffiti artist in Chicago. After a successful commercial career of making intensely layered and ornate ads for many clients from HBO to Accenture, filmmaking was a natural progression. I like to tell stories, empower my audiences to hold on to their happiness. I feel most alive when I'm creating. I love how film making demands one to wear many hats. It’s a tough question – because it is just what I do, what I dream about. It just happened and I'm excited to make more!
As a first time Director did you experience any challenges?
Too many! Seven years in the making, Patang was a rebellious film. We were among the first to shoot with HD cameras in India. Hand held, intimate and naturalistic, the process and aesthetic was unheard of even in the most independent Indian productions. We worked with a cast of 90% non-actors, allowing the actors to truly live on screen. We went through a grueling two year editing process. When Patang was shot, Indian contemporary cinema was rooted in convention. We broke so many rules. That unchartered journey was immensely challenging for my crew and cast to do.
PATANG is not Bollywood. PATANG in theme differs from most of the new films emerging from India – which largely capturing the angst of shedding societal pressures. PATANG does not objectify or romanticize like most films made by outsiders. Since its different and a novel product, I, as the filmmaker, must always fight to reach my audience. PATANG has been my life for the past eight years – so many sacrifices of relationships, home, financial stability. It’s a constant challenge.
How was your experience filming in India / How did you go about choosing kite flying in Ahmadabad as a subject?
The seeds for the movie Patang 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 they 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.
Inspired by the spiritual energy of the festival, I returned the next three years, slowly immersing myself in the ways of the old city. 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 my approach to shooting the film.
I found myself discovering stories within Ahmedabad’s old city that intrigued me. Fractured relationships, property disputes, the meaning of home and the spirit of celebration were recurring themes that surfaced. Patang’s joyful message and its cinematic magic developed organically. My desire was for the sense of poetry and aesthetics to be less of an imposed perspective and more of a view that emerged from the pride of the people and place.
How would you describe the reaction of the people of Ahmadabad? Is there anything you would like to say to them?
Returning to Ahmedabad to share the film with our cast and crew and the community was a magical experience. I felt honored and humbled when people from Ahmedabad embraced the film as their own story.
Audience members remarked how the film gave their lives and city an identity and a voice and captured the living heritage of their home.
The passion we sought to communicate with the film filled the air as we screened it and then celebrated the kite festival together.
Patang is the most internationally celebrated film made in Gujarat in the past decade. This film is yours. So much of media only describes the violence of the past or the economic growth – Patang moves beyond – capturing the resilience and joyous spirit of the people and the city. It is a must see for all Gujaratis.
How were your relationships with the crew & cast?
Patang was more than a film for all of us. Patang has been a journey which has inspired and brought together many. The key theme of resilience of family is reflected by the bonds between all of us who gave our hearts to make the film. We were more than a crew and cast on a film set – we were family. Through thick and thin, we shared the deepest emotions, our own vulnerabilities and simplest joys. The bonds we had on set paralleled the soaring and dueling, the spirit of celebration in the final film. From the overwhelming welcome of the local community to the ceaseless nurturance of my family, I couldn't have asked for more. Much of our cast and crew lived there in Ahmedabad their entire lives. The film transcended boundaries of class and conflict uniting communities in Ahmedabad that had conflict in the past. The filming remains a special time in my life and for all of us. I made lifelong friends.
One of my favorite aspects of working on the film was my time with the twelve children – all incredibly gifted, wise from difficult neighborhoods; their laughter was pure and their struggles throughout their lives humbling. We continue to push them in their education.
I am immensely proud that Patang sparked the careers and encouraged so many of our cast and crew to do amazing things. Almost every film of the new wave of Indian Cinema has major talent from Patang. Patang was the first lead role for Nawazuddin Siddiqui; his work with the children propelled him to adopt his signature naturalistic style. Our amazing cinematographer Shanker Raman went on to write, produce and shoot the celebrated film Harud – a beautiful an poignant story set in Kashmir. Ruchi Bhimani, our assistant editor, speaks so dearly of the time on Patang and how the film impacted her career – she has gone on to produce Ship of Theseus. Ajitpal Singh, our assistant director, was selected for the prestigious Sundance Lab. So many wonderful stories to tell.
People say film making is a roller-coaster ride – What do you say?
Certainly. Every aspect from conception, direction, editing to distribution is full of immense satisfaction and constant hurdles. It’s hard work. There are no gurus or yellow brick roads to follow. It’s trial by fire. Every moment, every decision was made with sheer love and uncertainty.
What is next for you? Any suggestions for aspiring filmmakers out there?
I am working on a new project with acclaimed composer/pianist Vijay Iyer, entitled Radhe Radhe. We shot in Mathura in India during Holi. Commissioned as part of a series of performances in tribute to infamous Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, Radhe Radhe is a fiery film – primal, violent and full of celebration. The film features a performance by Nawazuddin Siddiqui and will be performed with a live orchestra. Writing a new script that is too secret to reveal as of yet. I'm also doing commercials and music videos to pay the bills – thrilled to be back in the mix of short term collaborations after such a long journey!
For aspiring filmmakers – unlike ten years ago, the tools are available. If you are passionate and fearless, just do it. Watch everything you can. Make mistakes. A first time filmmaker can post their videos easily. There is more openness than ever. It’s an exciting time!