There aren’t many sights more spectacular than an azure blue Indian sky filled with thousands upon thousands of multicolored kites floating on the updrafts and zipping past each other like fiery gnats in the evening sun. The image’s surreal quality stems from the inability for the human eye to make out the lines of string holding the kites to the flyers, creating a kaleidoscope of seemingly free-floating blocks of color. But the invisible string is at once the reason the kite can fly, and also the reason it cannot escape. Without the tension of the string, the kite merely falls to the ground.
Prashant Barghva’s feature debut, The Kite, lacks this tension and pushes this image of a kite-filled sky to the literal breaking point, milking the metaphor of simultaneous hope and unending turmoil embodied in one airborne children’s toy until it’s hard to see the kite as anything but a tired and heavy-handed symbol. Barghva’s close examination of a multi-generational Indian family against the backdrop of the largest kite festival in India, Uttarayana, gets just barely enough tension in the dramatic strings to keep this kite of a film aloft; though endearing, the characters are somewhat stock and flat, making The Kite’s nearly two-hour runtime feel a bit drawn out. Which is not to say that Barghva doesn’t get a few good miles out of his moderately dysfunctional family and their journey to a better understanding of each other, it’s just that for the amount of time they spend on the screen, the conflict within their familial unit is relatively light.
Jayesh (Mukkund Shukla) and his daughter, Priya (Sugandha Garg), return to their ancestral house in Ahmedabad in Gujarat, to the relative surprise of Ba (Pannaben Soni), Jayesh’s mother, and Sudha (Seema Biswas), Jayesh’s sister-in-law. Jayesh hasn’t been home for nearly five years, since the death of his brother and Sudha’s husband from alcoholism. Though arriving under the pretense that he has come to relive his childhood through the kite festival, and introduce his daughter to the tradition, Jayesh is also there to sell the family house and move the widowed women into a cheaper and newfangled condo by the river. Jayesh thinks he knows what’s best for the family, but has clearly lost touch with his roots and what it means to call a place home. The festival commences and Jayesh begins to remember his childhood and recounts his favorite stories to his family and friends as Bargvha fills the screen with shots of Jayesh laughing, flying kites, and drinking cup after tin cup of liquor.
Subconsciously, Jayesh is running from his brother’s death, and wants nothing more than to be rid of the house that holds those memories. Chakku (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), Jayesh’s nephew, and son of the dead brother, is most hostile to the good intentioned Jayesh and makes it clear that he knows who is really responsible for his father’s death. Chakku and Jayesh fight briefly and audibly over dinner and the string on the family kite in the air sings with the weight of the conflict. But as soon as this line is pulled taught and something feels like it will break, the men separate and never speak again; Jayesh decides to not sell the house and Chakku waves goodbye the next day as his uncle leaves, a smile on his face. It’s almost as if Jayesh never showed up in the first place.
Overall, the film works better as a collection of beautiful images rather than as a cohesive narrative. There are numerous subplots and derivations throughout, as Priya falls in love with a local boy named Bobby (Aakash Mahayera), Chakku steals oranges from the markets with a band street urchins, and the young boy Hamid, who is tasked with delivering Jayesh’s order of kites, accidentally gets the kites stolen and torn apart. There are a few hints that perhaps Bargva considers himself a modern-day Asian Faulkner, and there may be some truth to that, as this film feels like it was adapted from a sprawling novel of family struggle in India as opposed to a tight script. It has the feel that Barghva tried to condense a far grander story into an hour and forty minutes of film. At its heart though, the story is timeless and no matter how loosely the events are handled, the themes of old-vs.-new and generational conflict will always ring true with audiences—not to mention its fun to watch people fly kites.