Cannes 2024: All We Imagine As Light—A beacon of hope for Indian cinema

Payal Kapadia made history at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Moreover, this was the first Indian film to compete in the festival's main competition in 30 years.

BySujatha Narayanan

Published May 26, 2024 | 2:01 PMUpdatedMay 27, 2024 | 3:10 PM

Cannes 2024: All We Imagine As Light—A beacon of hope for Indian cinema

For once “India shining” at Cannes is not about who wore which fashion label. India shining at an international film festival for the first time is about Indian Cinema winning.

The credit for this “first win” goes to Payal Kapadia and her luminous cast and crew who won the prestigious Grand Prix at Cannes 2024. Other Indian filmmakers and talents won important awards, as well.

Anasuya Sengupta, won Best Actress for the Bulgarian film, The Shameless (2024), in the Un Certain Regard category.

First, this category was brought to light in the Indian media in 1999 with the selection of Shaji N Karun’s Malayalam film Vanaprastham (1999), starring the commercially successful actor Mohanlal. It was an Indo-French production and the film garnered all possible awards for 1999-2000 globally.

Beyond Bollywood

The cinematographer of Vanaprastham, Santosh Sivan, was honoured with The Pierre Angenieux Award at this year’s Cannes festival. He is the first Indian cinematographer to receive this honour.

The focus on the French terms for various categories in the Cannes Film Festival and the importance of the festival itself kept growing over the years and it has now become a “thing to do” for the Indian film industry to have their cast and crew to be seen on the Cannes Red Carpet and pose in gowns and tuxedoes.

But the festival is so much more than just the shutterbugs.

The other Indian film talents who won at Cannes this year, are Chidananda S Naik for Sunflowers Were The First To Know (2023), First Prize in the category—La Cinef, and Mansi Maheshwari, who won the Third Prize in the same category (La Cinef).

Now that’s a huge haul of awards in the world’s premium film festival right?

Also read: Payal Kapadia’s ‘All We Imagine as Light’ wins Grand Prix award at Cannes 2024

Rewriting the narrative 

Payal Kapadia was once known for her dissenting voice against the then leadership at the Pune Film Institute in 2015. It’s an added burden to shoulder dissent when you are already facing an uphill climb being a woman filmmaker.

Let’s just agree on one point here, shall we? Even in 2024, an average male filmmaker or technician gets twice as many opportunities to work in cinema than an excellent female technician or filmmaker.

Work keeps coming for women behind the camera only as long as they’re in the shadow of a popular or hailed male filmmaker or technician but when they want to branch out and make a name for themselves, make their film, or be given work for her technical expertise—it’s always a struggle.

But Payal Kapadia has persisted and climbed the hard climb and arrived at this Cannes peak. In this process, she has carried with her an entire legion of women filmmakers and technicians from India, whose hopes and dreams her Grand Prix now represents.

All We Imagine As Light is an interesting film to watch because it has two primary languages spoken by its leads (from what I could see in the teaser clips on the Cannes social media handle).

Scripting a sweet success story

It’s Malayalam and Hindi, in that order of importance. Now that is another lovely occurrence as well. Hindi cinema is not representative of Indian cinema and this comes across as an underlining idea when I see the teaser (thankfully so).

Malayalam, which is the most lucrative and culturally popular regional cinema at the moment in India, happens to be the language of conversations as the two female leads are Malayalis.

What also struck me as impressive in the teaser are the brief dialogues that convey the moment well.

I can’t wait to watch the film in the movie hall also because this film heralds hope for those filmmakers who want their film to run in the festival circuit first and then look for a grand commercial release. This is how it’s done, guys!

You make a film with complete conviction and you find an agent who can represent your film across festivals with as much conviction. And then the appearances follow. The screenings happen with a producer or a studio who has the same conviction (see that’s the operative word) to spend on such events.

For All We Imagine As Light, the producers are Thomas Hakim and Julien Graff. It’s a collaboration between France, India, Netherlands & Luxembourg.

And then, when the film strikes a chord with the festival audience, you may just have landed a moment when your film has outdone even a Francis Ford Coppola (and his Megalopolis) in winning the Grand Prix no less! But making that film is the first step.

Finding a producer who also believes in the film is a first step. And many such first steps will add to the final step.

All eyes on Kani Kusruti

Coming to the cast of All We Imagine As Light, Kani Kusruti (who initially became popular in the Tamil short film, Maa (2018), made by Sarjun KM and who was also seen in Abhishek Chaubey’s Netflix series Killer Soup (2024) apart from her various art film outings which keep garnering awards) has emerged as a “breakout star” from being in the shadows for a good decade or so.

From selecting good scripts to zealously following her path she has forged a career that has now made her an International actor.

I won’t be surprised if she is offered films in European languages or Hollywood as that’s the next logical thing to happen to her.

It was wonderful to see the sisterhood shine in the prize-winning moments as Payal, Divya Prabha and Chhaya Kadam (whose specific scenes in Laapata Ladies are now meme material in a good way) displayed a bonhomie and bond that can come only from the gender they represent and that is also an outpour of all our collective emotions of A) Indian cinema winning and B) Indian cinema winning; thanks to a female filmmaker.

Also Read: Kani Kusruti makes a bold statement with her clutch at Cannes

Breaking gender stereotypes

As much as I dislike being discriminated against for being a woman when it comes to calling me by my professional identity (e.g., tag me as just a producer and not a female producer) it does become imperative to applaud louder for All We Imagine As Light, as it’s led by women. It’s a film about women and made by a woman.

Waiting to watch Anasuya Sengupta in Konstantin Bojanov’s The Shameless, along with the other Indian films that have won this year. It’s one thing to be all glam and walk the red carpet.

It’s another thing to be glam and yet be willing to put yourself out there for what you believe in.

Watching Payal Kapadia and the cast and crew of  All We Imagine As Light dance their way into their Cannes win was heartening.

It is a quiet message that your voice can be heard loud and clear when there is a support system around you and when there is a core idea that makes the artistic expression shine bright.

A film (whether it is fiction or non-fiction) is a collaborative art form and it always needs people to come together in collective faith and mutual trust that of course needs to be backed with the right kind of money.

When all these elements come together, the red carpet will roll out and the spotlight will turn on as you walk in to show the world your vision.

(Views expressed here are personal.)