The story of the Indian brotherhood gets rave reviews at Cannes

Aseem Chhabra, Cannes,film writer

BBC Payal Kapadia's new film, All We Imagine As Light.  Payal Kapadia's new film, All We Imagine As Light.bbc

Kapadia’s film follows two women navigating their careers and love in Mumbai

Indian filmmaker Payal Kapadia’s new film begins with street scenes in contemporary Mumbai.

But All We Imagine as Light does not show us the rich and select Mumbai of Bollywood stars and billionaire industrialists. Instead, the filmmaker overlays the street images with voices of real immigrants from Mumbai who are the heart of the city.

This is Kapadia’s first narrative feature film and it premiered Thursday night in the main competition section of the Cannes Film Festival. The film received an eight-minute ovation.

It is a significant achievement for the filmmaker and also for India. This is the first time in 30 years that an Indian film is presented in the main competition section of Cannes. Kapadia, 38, shares the spotlight and the chance to win one of the festival’s prestigious awards with artists such as Francis Ford Coppola, Yorgos Lanthimos, Ali Abbasi, Jacques Audiard and Jia Zhangke.

Payal Kapadia's new film, All We Imagine As Light

All We Imagine as Light is the first Indian film to screen in official competition at Cannes in 30 years.

Over the last four decades, Indian films have done quite well on the global festival circuit.

Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay won the Camera d’Or at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival. A few days before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Nair’s 2001 classic Monsoon Wedding won the Golden Lion at the Festival. of Venice Cinema.

Director Ritesh Batra’s celebrated 2013 film The Lunchbox won the Grand Golden Rail award at Cannes. And earlier this year, director Shuchi Talati’s Girls Will Be Girls received the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at the Sundance Film Festival.

But the prospect of receiving the Palme d’Or or one of the other key Cannes prizes has so far eluded India, the world’s largest film-producing country. This year, thanks to Kapadia’s moving and beautifully made film, India has a very good chance of winning.

The reviews have already been full of high praise. The Guardian in its five-star review describes it as “glorious… an absorbing story full of humanity.” The critic places the film on par with Satyajit Ray’s Mahanagar (The Big City) and Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest). And IndieWire in its A review says that Kapadia’s drama gives Mumbai a romantic look, as reflected in the way “people occupy their space…whether alone or sharing.”

Payal Kapadia's new film, All We Imagine As Light.  Payal Kapadia's new film, All We Imagine As Light.

Reviews have been full of praise: The Guardian calls it “an absorbing story full of humanity.”

Daughter of the well-known Indian artist Nalini Malani, Kapadia knows Mumbai, a multicultural and diverse city, very well.

“It’s also a place where women find it a little easier to work compared to many other places in the country,” Kapadia says.

“I wanted to make a film about women who leave their homes to go work somewhere else.”

In All We Know as Light, Kapadia follows the lives and struggles of two Indian nurses from the southern state of Kerala who work in a hospital and live together in a small, congested apartment in Mumbai.

A nurse, Prabha (Kani Kusruti, who played a supporting role in Girls Will Be Girls), is married. Her husband now works in Germany and barely communicates with her. But suddenly she receives a surprise gift from her husband: a rice cooker. She hugs the machine, as if it were the last sign of love in her marriage.

Payal Kapadia's new film, All We Imagine As Light

All We Imagine As Light is one of four directed by a woman in the Cannes competition section

The second nurse, Anu (Divya Prabha), is more adventurous and has a secret romance with a young Muslim Shiaz (a charming young actor, Hridhu Haroon) who is also from Kerala.

Anu is Hindu and her family would not approve of her relationship with Shiaz.

Mumbai’s congested environment, with 22 million people clamoring for space and its harsh monsoon season, does not allow Anu and Shiaz any privacy.

But suddenly, a third nurse at their hospital, Parvaty (Chhaya Kadam, appearing in two films at Cannes this year), decides to leave the city, forced to do so by the redevelopment of a poor neighborhood for the city’s rich.

Will this be the opportunity to change the course of these characters’ lives?

Payal Kapadia's new film, All We Imagine As Light

All We Imagine As Light is a story of the real immigrants of Mumbai who make the heart of the city beat.

The politics of negotiating space is no different from the student struggles that Kapadia captured in his latest film: a documentary titled A Night Without Knowing Anything.

The film premiered in the parallel section of the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022. It won the L’Œil d’or “Golden Eye”, the festival’s highest documentary award.

A night of knowing nothing followed the 2015 student strike at the prestigious government-run Film and Television Institute of India. Kapadia was part of the strike and eventually graduated from the institute with a degree in directing in 2018.

In a 2022 interview, he described the documentary as a “love letter to public universities and what they represent: a place where ideally people from all strata of society can be together and enjoy freedom, both intellectual and physical.” .

A similar sentiment resonates throughout All We Imagine as Light.

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