Why Indian films like All We Imagine As Light and others are the cynosure of all eyes at Cannes



“Indian cinema has often been represented at La Cinef with highly talented film directors. In the last nine years, six of them have been selected: Saurav Rai, Ashmita Guha Neogi (1st prize), Pratham Khurana, Yudhajit Basu, Chidananda S. Naik, and Payal Kapadia with Afternoon Clouds in 2017. Kapadia’s films – including All We Imagine as Light in competition this year at Cannes – are remarkably sensitive and poetic, as also socially and politically concerned.

The elegance of her scenes, her humanity, and the strength of her characters move us deeply. Her unique voice in contemporary Indian cinema reminds us of the dignity and nobility of Satyajit Ray’s great works,” says Dimitra Karya, Artistic Director of La Cinef (La Cinéfondation, a foundation under the Cannes Film Festival, set up to support the next generation of global filmmakers).

As women filmmakers are making their presence felt at the ongoing 77th Cannes Film Festival in France, film-critic Shomini Sen says she is rooting for Kapadia. “I could be biased, I have a feeling she will win, though it is unfair to say for sure. The film will travel to many festivals. The story is powerful – about loneliness, which is a universal topic,” she says. Kapadia’s film is competing with 22 other films for the Palme d’Or award.

In the category are biggies like Andrea Arnold, Francis Ford Coppola, Jia Zhang-Ke, Paolo Sorrentino, Sean Baker, and Ali Abbasi. “Kapadia is different from other filmmakers who, when they arrive, might want to go to a red carpet screening and are curious about parties. She was quiet, sometimes lost in thought, but focused on her work and screening. She’s 100% devoted; passionate, but not vocal,” says Sonia Rannou, French Alps based publicist, who interviewed Kapadia in 2017 at the Cannes. Kapadia is a Mumbai-based filmmaker, who studied film direction at the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune.

Kapadia’s Malayalam-Hindi film All We Imagine as Light stars Kani Kusruti, Divya Prabha, Chhaya Kadam, Hridhu Haroon and Azees Nedumangad. The story revolves around a nurse Prabha, who gets a gift from her estranged husband.

The Indian lineup is quite robust, and it is interesting that films far from commercial success have found a place at the Cannes. Manthan, the 1976 movie starring Smita Patil and Girish Karnad, was screened at the festival. The film received a standing ovation. Having starred in the movie, Naseeruddin Shah, who was present at the venue, dedicated the honour to Shyam Benegal, the director of the movie.

Utpal Borpujari is a double National Film Award winner. Also the winner of the Swarna Kamal for Best Film Critic at the 50th National Film Awards of India, he won the National Film Award and five Assam State Film Awards for his debut feature film Ishu, in 2018. He says, “We must admit the Cannes festival has sought-after films, many of them made by great masters. So, it is a tough competition. Indian cinema has, in the last few years, been a part of huge festivals. Many documentaries are doing well, going to the Sundance Film Festival also. New filmmakers have fresh voices. With co-production participation, films like Kapadia’s (a Indo-French co-production between Petit Chaos from France, and Chalk & Cheese Films from India) have a bigger chance of getting noticed. This is because French co-producers also try from their end; it generates extra interest.” Borpujari feels that many independent locally-made Indian films, with no foreign help, do not get noticed, despite great content.

Chidananda S. Naik, a doctor-turned-filmmaker is also at the Cannes with his notable work Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know, a 16-minute short film in Kannada. Interestingly, Indian cinema has been well-represented by FTII, known to have produced some big names – Jaya Bachchan, Raju Hirani, Shabana Azmi and Naseeruddin Shah.

The film by Naik is based on a folklore from rural Karnataka. “It was shot at night for four days with limited resources. We had only one generator provided by the film school. We came out with creative solutions to get the shots right. We shot at a remote place – with no mobile network – not easily accessible to anyone. Our small crew faced many difficulties but we managed,” says Naik, an FTII, Pune graduate.

As a cinephile, Naik watched The Second Act (a French comedy film written, shot, edited, and directed by Quentin Dupieux), Furiosa (a Mad Max Saga, an action-adventure film directed by George Miller), Megalopolis (a science fiction drama by Francis Ford Coppola), Kinds of Kindness (an absurdist anthology film directed by Yorgos Lanthimos).

“The biggest challenge as a filmmaker when you get selected for the Cannes is getting through bureaucracy; the financial burden is also always there,” he says. “I think it is medical studies that gave me wings to pursue my passion for cinema. I got to witness the spectrum of life on those floors of the hospital,” says Naik, adding that he personally pitched the ideas and sent the script to actors. “They were kind enough to come all the way to FTII and be a part of the shoot. My childhood friends and acting students were also a part of the film’s cast and crew. We had actors from around Pune too. These are the stories I have grown listening to and I always wanted to make a Kannada film for my graduation.”

Sonia Rannou, who has been associated with Indian Cinema Events, began promoting films, way back in 2003. She set up the India pavilion at the Cannes 20 years ago, when Murali Nair’s film Arimpara was in the Official Selection. She was appointed programmer for the Indian section at Marrakech International Film Festival in 2005. The same year, she returned to the Cannes to promote Darshan by Jan Kounen on Mata Amritanandamayi, Omkara in 2006, and Masaan in 2015. “I think Payal Kapadia is a wonder woman. Despite being incredibly young, she has an amazing perspective,” says Rannou.

Film critic Deepak Dua says, “Small, independent films now have a lot more platforms for them to showcase their talent. You have OTTs to YouTube, and these festivals. Cinema is an industry, so funding should not be difficult if you have a meaningful narrative, and infrastructure. However, box office success is a challenge. To get audience participation, you need money for publicity and that is where the problem arises.”

Among other films, British-Indian filmmaker Sandhya Suri’s Santosh, about a widowed woman who takes on her late husband’s job as a police constable in rural India is listed in the Un Certain Regard section. Karan Kandhari’s Radhika Apte-starrer ‘Sister Midnight’ is selected for Directors’ Fortnight. “India produces the largest number of films in the world, and yet when it comes to quality, we hardly make 10 films a year that could qualify in this category. In the past, Chetan Anand, V. Shantaram, Raj Kapoor, Mrinal Sen as well as Satyajit Ray films, have been nominated and won awards. This time Payal Kapadia has earned a big name for herself as it is the first feature film we are all excited about,” says film critic Arnab Banerjee.

Kapadia’s A Night of Knowing Nothing that premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight stream at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival won the L’Œil d’or award for Best Documentary Film. Shaunak Sen’s All That Breathes won the Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and also the Golden Eye at the 75th Cannes Film Festival. “There is enough evidence of the kind of talent India has,” Banerjee adds, saying that Maisam Ali’s In Retreat will also be an interesting one as it comes out of Ladakh, a first again. – Asmita Aggarwal is fashion & lifestyle editor of nrifocus.com


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.