Who is ‘All We Imagine As Light’ filmmaker Payal Kapadia and why is she trending?

Although 'All We Imagine As Light' is Payal's debut feature film as a director, the 38-year-old is already familiar with the global stage, having previously garnered international attention.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 27, 2024 | 6:26 PMUpdatedMay 27, 2024 | 7:44 PM

All We Imagine As Light filmmaker Payal Kapadia

Indian filmmaker Payal Kapadia achieved a historic milestone on 25 May by winning the Grand Prix Award at the 77th Cannes Film Festival 2024 for her film All We Imagine As Light. The movie marks both her personal and India’s inaugural win in this category.

Payal Kapadia is the first female director to enter the Cannes Film Festival’s main competition. Moreover, her film stands as the first Indian entry, in three decades to vie for the prestigious award.

Although All We Imagine As Light is Payal Kapadia’s debut feature film as a director, the 38-year-old is already familiar with the global stage, having previously garnered international attention.

In 2021, her documentary—A Night of Knowing Nothing, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight, received widespread acclaim, and secured the prestigious Oeil d’Or (Golden Eye) award.

The film portrays letters exchanged between an FTII student and her ex-boyfriend, who is prohibited from marrying her due to caste differences.

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

Payal Kapadia’s journey: From FTII to Grand Prix

Payal Kapadia with the Grand Prix Award

Payal Kapadia with the Grand Prix Award at Cannes. (Supplied)

A graduate of the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Payal Kapadia gained recognition for spearheading a four-month-long protest against the then-FTII Chairman Gajendra Chauhan in 2015.

It was done in response to the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, who transitioned from television acting to politics, as the chairman of the institution.

Lasting 139 days, the protest at FTII marked the institution’s lengthiest in history, targeting what protesters deemed a purely “political” decision in appointing Chauhan.

Noted for his involvement in low-budget B-grade and C-grade films, Chauhan’s appointment was vehemently opposed by Payal Kapadia and others, who argued his lack of suitable credentials for the position.

She allegedly abstained from attending classes during the demonstration and encountered disciplinary consequences, such as a reduction in her FTII grant. An FIR was lodged against her, too.

Subsequently, 35 students among them, Payal Kapadia faced charges under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including 143, 147, 149, 323, 353, and 506, about offences such as unlawful assembly, criminal intimidation, and rioting, with some charges being non-bailable.

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

Ameya Gore, one of the 35 students implicated in the case, stated that following the incident, a significant number of students encountered difficulties concerning scholarships and acquiring passports.

It appears that the case is currently pending in the Sessions Court, with no advancement reported from the prosecution’s end.

All We Imagine As Light still

A still from ‘All We Imagine As Light’. (Supplied)

“The trial has yet to commence, despite hearings being typically scheduled every two to three months, as there is a consistent absence of representation from the prosecution side,” Ameya was quoted as saying.

Out of that protest emerged independent films by students like Prateek Vats’s Eeb Allay Ooo! (2019) and Payal Kapadia’s Cannes-winning documentary A Night of Knowing Nothing (2021).

In 2017, Bhupendra Kainthola, the director of FTII at the time, provided a letter of endorsement and funded Payal’s travel expenses when her short film Afternoon Clouds (2015) was chosen for screening at the Cannes Film Festival.

The short was showcased in Cinefondation, a dedicated category aimed at nurturing emerging talents in filmmaking, further solidifying her presence on the global cinematic stage.

Afternoon Clouds centres on a 60-year-old widow residing with her Nepali house helper, unfolding throughout a single afternoon in their home.

The roles were portrayed by Usha Naik and Trimala Adhikari, respectively.

In a social media post, Oscar-winning Indian sound designer Resul Pookutty asserted that the mainstream Indian film industry played no part in their achievements, emphasising that they were often viewed as outsiders within that sphere.

Also Read: Anasuya Sengupta wins Un Certain Regard best actress trophy at 2024 Cannes

‘Indian cinema, a self-contained industry’

A file photo of Payal Kapadia

A file photo of Payal Kapadia. (Supplied)

Payal Kapadia is a devoted cinephile, who holds a deep admiration for Miguel Gomes. She also has a particular fondness for the works of Satyajit Ray from her time at film school.

Additionally, she’s enamoured with the films of Eric Rohmer, Claire Denis, Alice Rohrwacher, and Agnes Varda.

In an interview, Payal Kapadia observed that only a handful of Indian filmmakers submit their films to festivals.

“Many Indian filmmakers operate within a self-contained industry, often not seeing the necessity of submitting their work to festivals. However, for those aiming to create smaller, less narrative-focused films that diverge from the industry norm, securing funding can be challenging.”

Payal Kapadia highlighted the significant support she received from the French system, which proved invaluable in navigating these hurdles.

On Kerala audience

During the press conference following the Grand Prix Award win, Payal Kapadia (joined by the cast of All We Imagined As Light) highlighted the diverse range of films emerging from Kerala.

She noted that even arthouse films receive distribution in the region, a phenomenon not commonly seen elsewhere in the country.

The award-winning filmmaker praised the openness of the Kerala audience to embrace various cinematic experiences.

Team All We Imagine As Light receives Grand Prix at the Cannes

Team ‘All We Imagine As Light’ receives Grand Prix at the Cannes. (Supplied)

During another press conference, Payal Kapadia lauded the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) and described it as among the finest in India.

She emphasised its excellence and labelled it as truly fantastic and one of the top film festivals nationwide.

Payal Kapadia also highlighted the self-sufficiency of the festival. “The state government initiated a grant to help female filmmakers and those from underrepresented castes.”

Further, she remarked on the significant growth within the Kerala film industry, noting a surge in diverse offerings ranging from art houses to commercial and mid-level productions.

The resounding victory of, All We Imagine as Light, at Cannes Film Festival, serves as a substantial advantage for its potential nomination at the Oscars 2025.

This groundbreaking achievement positions the film as a leading contender for India’s entry in the Best International Feature Film category.

Looking back on her victory at the Cannes Film Festival 2024, Payal Kapadia voiced her desire to see greater representation of Indian films on the global stage.

Urging for more frequent participation, she pleaded, “Let’s not wait another three decades for an Indian film.”

Related: Everything you want to know about Payal Kapadia’s ‘All We imagine As Light’