‘Andolan-jeevi’ as India’s darling: Tharoor asks ‘proud’ Modi to withdraw cases against Payal Kapadia

"Modi ji, if India is proud of her, should your government not immediately #WithdrawTheCases against her and fellow FTII students," Shashi Tharoor said on X.

BySouth First Desk

Published May 28, 2024 | 10:52 AM Updated May 28, 2024 | 10:52 AM

Tharoor raised the demand after Prime Minister Modi congratulated Payal Kapadia for the Grand Prix win. (File pic)

“We are all familiar with buddhi-jeevis (intellectuals) and shram-jeevis (workers), but now, a new category of andolan-jeevis (protesters) has … come to the fore who feed off protests. They jump into all sorts of protests, whether it is by lawyers or students or workers. Sometimes they can be spotted, while on other occasions, they stay in the background. They are like parasites who feed off protests.” Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Parliament, November 2021.

In 2015, Modi’s neologism, andolan-jeevi, “suited” Payal Kapadia and other students in the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, when they waged a strike against the appointment of  Gajendra Chauhan as the chairperson of the premier film studies establishment in the country.

Kapadia was then an “anti-national”, told to “go to Pakistan”, predominantly by right-wing activists belonging to the Sangh Parivar. Nine years later, she became the darling of the country, oneiric, like her movies.

The same year the prime minister made his statement in Parliament, filmmaker Kapadia, too, made her political perspective clear through her film, which unfurled like a love letter to cinema.

“A Night of Knowing Nothing” expressed the anguish in the country’s shift towards authoritarianism and religious hegemony, through letters ‘L’ wrote to her once boyfriend.

Related: Who is ‘All We Imagine As Light’ filmmaker Payal Kapadia

PM’s message

On 26 May, Prime Minister Modi took to X to congratulate Kapadia, after her latest, “All We Imagine As Light”, won the Grand Prix at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival. The award recognised Indian women’s creative acumen, contrary to the fashion statements they used to make — or didn’t — on the red carpet.

“India is proud of Payal Kapadia for her historic feat of winning the Grand Prix at the 77th Cannes Film Festival for her work ‘All We Imagine as Light’,” the prime minister posted on X.

“An alumnus of FTII, her remarkable talent continues to shine on the global stage, giving a glimpse of the rich creativity in India. This prestigious accolade not only honours her exceptional skills but also inspires a new generation of Indian filmmakers,” he added.

Modi’s congratulatory remark “inspired” many netizens, including Shashi Tharoor, who represents Thiruvananthapuram in the outgoing Lok Sabha.

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

Withdraw cases, says Tharoor

“Modi ji, if India is proud of her, should your government not immediately #WithdrawTheCases against her and fellow FTII students protesting against your government’s arbitrary appointment of an unqualified Chairman?,” he asked.

Several others responded to Modi’s tweet. They reminded him, “The same Payal Kapadia was forced to protest for 4 months & even her grand was cancelled by your Govt.”

Oscar-winner sound designer Resul Pookutty demanded the FTII to withdraw the cases against Kapadia and other students.

“Payal Kapadia comes back from Cannes and next month goes for her court case hearing that FTII lodged against her for striking against the appointment of Mr Chouhan as the Chairman! Interesting, isn’t it?” Pookutty noted.

Related: Everything you want to know about Payal Kapadia’s film

The FTII protest

Kapadia and 34 other students had in 2015 protested against Chauhan’s appointment, saying the ‘Mahabharata’ television serial actor lacked the credentials to head FTII.

Kapadia had to pay the price for the strike. She was deprived of a foreign exchange programme, as well as a ₹22,000 scholarship.

Besides disqualifying her and several other protesters, the then-institute director Prashanth Pathrabe complained to the Pune Police, saying he was detailed by the students, including Kapadia, in August 2015.

The case is unresolved and is before a magistrate court in Pune.

Meanwhile, the FTII also congratulated Kapadia. “We congratulate Payal Kapadia for winning the Grand Prix Award, Santosh Sivan for receiving Pierre Angénieux Tribute Award, Maisam Ali for his debut at ACID & Chidanand S Naik for winning La Cinef.

Their achievements are taking Indian Cinema to greater heights,” it said on X.

Kapadia accepted the congratulatory messages gracefully. Her “All We Imagine As Light” narrated the life of two Malayali nurses in Mumbai.