Blog | Let This Not Be Only About All We Imagine As Light - A Filmmaker's PoV

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Let this not become only about Payal Kapadia's beautiful film All We Imagine as Light. Because art is a subjective medium, and no matter who wins an award, there will always be multitudinous opinions about a piece of art. To reduce it to just that then is, to my mind, a disservice - despite my having no doubt that it's a stunning, solid film. This is a volcano that has finally erupted. It breaks open hitherto closed doors for the women of a country who haven't had enough representation in international cinema for almost forever. Against that, Payal Kapadia's achievement is like a Katana that slices through the stronghold of the past. There was an age before this, and there will be an age after this moment. There will be - hopefully - no going back. 

Not An Easy World

Being an independent filmmaker myself, I know how many good films are made in multiple languages across the various states of our country every year, and I see first-hand how tough it is for Indian filmmakers to even get their films featured at festivals, let alone get selected, or, god willing (I say this as an atheist), win anything. It doesn't help that we send thousands of films to film festivals abroad as a single country, of which just one or two are selected to represent India. If this was Singapore, and you were an independent filmmaker from Singapore, you'd be one amongst perhaps 20 films being sent abroad, and thus you would have a 1:20 chance at representing the country.  Also, almost every Indian film is backed by powerful men with influence, who make calls and send emails requesting for the film to be considered. 

Read | All We Imagine As Light Review: A Genuine Tour De Force That Has Nary A Blemish

It's in such a world that a film with no stars, with a fairly international voice, and made by women through and through, has won a Cannes Grand Prix. 

On Patronage For Art

For some perspective, it's difficult to last for long as an independent filmmaker in India, purely because the industry is self-sustaining, that is, there is little institutional backing. To an outsider, it may seem easier for that very reason, but it's not. The reason is that we are expected to not just make films with no institutional funding or support, but any independent voice is also likely to diverge from the popular cinematic template and tastes of the day. And so, chances are that such a film won't get sold because it's not of the cinematic style the general audiences are used to. Hence, in addition to there being no funding support, there is also no or very little market for independent films. 

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On the other hand, if there is government support, chances are that criticism is not easy. This has been true for as long as one can remember, and it basically means that the film will have to be apolitical - or, of a favourable brand of politics. Which then means that its characters have to exist in a vacuum in daily life. All this boils down to the fact that in spite of there technically being government institutions that support filmmakers, such support may come with limitations. To cite a personal example, my team and I made Not Today, a film about suicide prevention centres and mental health that took us two years to complete, and applied for the National Award. The film talks about India's underfunded and barely developed suicide helplines. It won the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) award in 2022, but it's yet to find a firm footing in India.  

Another aspect is film schools. Independent thought and the belief that cinema can be a tool for social change, that cinema can be a genuine reflection of a society with no rose-tinted glass, is built into people at film schools that aren't about commerce. Like Krzysztof Kieślowski, who came from the Lodz film school in Poland, India, too, has had an institution like that since 1960, called the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), from where many an independent and genuine voice has emerged. I myself am a 2004 graduate from FTII. We learnt to experiment there, we learnt to see cinema as much more than commerce, and we worked at developing a voice that is deeply Indian but also not bogged down necessarily by the commercial force-fit of what we call 'Bollywood'. 

A Film Is A PoV

Of late though, the FTII has been under fire for various reasons. Payal Kapadia herself faces a legal case for participating in a strike against the dean. For independent voices in India, the hurdles are many: commerce, lack of institutionalised finance, and sometimes, curbs on ideas. Kapadia's case proves beyond a doubt that filmmakers from India have the talent needed to take cinema to world platforms and win big. Why don't we have enough support within the boundaries of the country? 

As a filmmaker, I can only hope that Kapadia's victory as a filmmaker and Anasuya Sengupta's feat as the first Indian to win the Cannes Best Actress award will push the institutions in our country, and maybe even industry leaders, to help set up independent bodies that support cinema as a pure art form. Without patronage, art can never reach the brilliance it has the potential for. With support, independent cinema can exist independently, without the bounds or perils of the 'box office'. Such support though should also let films serve as a mirror to society. 

Finally, more grants ought to be awarded to institutes like the FTII so that more filmmakers from smaller towns, cities and villages can start to talk about the India they see. It's a film. It's a PoV. In a country like India, there can never be a dearth.

(Aditya Kripalani is an independent filmmaker from FTII, whose films normally talk about social issues. His works include 'Tikli and Laxmi Bomb', 'Tottaa Pataaka Item Maal', and 'Not Today'.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal views of the author