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Cannes 2024 – ‘All We Imagine as Light’ – Beautiful, tender, poignant and deliciously Indian…

Cannes 2024 – ‘All We Imagine as Light’ – Beautiful, tender, poignant and deliciously Indian…

With only her second feature writer-director Payal Kapadia has written herself into cinema history in becoming only the second filmmaker from India to be garlanded with a Grand Prix accolade…

THOSE of you used to the pace of mainstream commercial Hindi language films may find this a little tough going to start.

We implore you to the point of exasperation – to give it your full attention and commitment, for it is a film that gives a lot, if you can let it in – create a path for your soul to engage in its larger themes and especially dream possibilities that may not be present right now in your life – for it is a film partly about dreaming and letting go and finding the space and inclination to do so, when mostly you have just been surviving and thinking day to day.

That for us, is the film’s important and vital beauty and we dare doubt the main Competition jury felt something similar even in the rarefied air of the Cote d.’Azur

Essentially, this is the plight Prabha (Kani Kusruti) and Anu (Divya Prabha) find themselves in – migrant nurses from Kerala, they speak their mother tongue to each other and at home in their cramped Mumbai flat and it is clear, they are oppressed – in a very general and cultural sense. This is not political.

The rains are an almost incessant feature and the city is dark, claustrophobic, noisy and at times, insufferable. And yet…

Anu and Prabha are good friends and flatmates, despite the age gap and as is common in a big city (some reckon Mumbai, or Bombay as it used to be called, is home to some 20-25 million people) – strangers are thrown together, not out of choice but circumstances. Sometimes you bond with flatmates, sometimes you don’t.

Prabha is married but her relationship has long gone stale but she clings to the idea that one day over the horizon it might be different – during the course of the film, we see how that sentiment changes, deflects and well…let’s not spoil it.

Her husband had left for Germany soon after their arranged marriage and she has not heard from him for a while. There is a gift (which you can see from the clip released) from him which suggests he still cares.

Anu is at the other end of the spectrum, a flighty, flirty, woman of romance, she has fallen for the young and innocent Shiaz (Hridhu Haroon). In what is a lovely role reversal, it is Anu that takes physical charge and determines that she should be Shiaz’s first…

Of course, living in a cramped city like Mumbai it isn’t at all straightforward and Shiaz’s efforts go awry when a wedding trip his parents are set to embark on gets cancelled because of the monsoon rains.

Prabha also has choices – a lonely doctor, at the hospital where she works and from Kerala, confides his difficulty in adjusting to Mumbai and Hindi. His courting is clumsy and awkward but Prabha being the sort of woman she is takes it her stride without being difficult or condescending about his efforts. She is that sort of person: pleasant, understanding, wise, kind.

Into this mix, comes Parvaty (Chhaya Kaddam) – she is a cook or cleaner at the hospital where the other pair work – she also finds Prabha a person to confide in – the flat block she lives in, is about to be acquired by developers who will only deal with residents who have papers…Parvaty doesn’t have any… her husband used to work in the mills and she simply inherited it when he passed away some time back.*

It is when these three women get out of Mumbai that their situation changes radically. Prabha is a life saver and in a scene that is probably more ‘imagined’ than real, she finds an equilibrium and poise, she lacked in Mumbai.

Shiaz is there with Anu on the quiet and suddenly there are opportunities to further their blossoming love and romance. Even Parvaty seems more content without the same pressures in the city.

Payal Kapadia’s first fiction feature is a gorgeous, sophisticated, thoughtful, film of ideas and possibilities and an ode to the wonderful city and energy of Mumbai …like her characters you must open yourself up to allow them in and let them do the talking… please…

About the previous Grand Prix winner at Cannes in 1946

All We Imagine as Light’ first screened at the Grand Lumiere Theatre on Thursday, May 23 evening at the Cannes Film Festival (May 14-25).

We have quotes about the film by Kapadia in a roundtable journalist discussion at Cannes and will run when the film gets a UK release…

We are not giving this film a rating as it won a prize and is wholly deserving, just go and see it when it comes to the big screen…

Picture: Prabha (Kani Kusruti) and Anu (Divya Prabha) – Courtesy Festival De Cannes

Our own coverage from Cannes

Red Carpet

Winners press conference (where we asked the first question):

Festival De Cannes press conference –

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture