2015 FTII protest headliner Payal Kapadia wins the Grand Prix award for her directorial debut in ‘All We Imagine as Light’

While there is an outpouring of congratulations for Kapadia on her win, many are reminding her of the disciplinary action taken against her by the FTII after the protest, which resulted in her losing a scholarship of 22,000 and a foreign exchange opportunity. Additionally, there was a smear campaign labelling her as "anti-national."

On May 25, the whole of India together cherished and congratulated Payal Kapadia for becoming the first Indian filmmaker to win the Grand Prix award for her directorial debut feature, ‘All We Imagine as Light’. At the 77th Cannes Film Festival, Kapadia won the Grand Prix award, which is the second highest honour after the Palme d’Or. It is to be noted that Kapadia’s film marked the first Indian entry in the main competition in 30 years and is also the inaugural work by an Indian female director to be featured in this prestigious line-up.

Her film ‘All We Imagine As Light’, which garnered a standing ovation of more than 8 minutes, is a story that celebrates self-discovery and female solidarity. The story revolves around two Malayali nurses Prabha and Anu, both of whom are experiencing problems in their romantic lives. One day, the two nurses embark on a road trip to a beach town, where the mystical forest transforms into a realm where their dreams come to life.

After the news of the historic win emerged, many, including several Bollywood actors and filmmakers, took to social media to congratulate Kapadia. Kiara Advani, Anurag Kashyap, Radhika Apte, Swara Bhasker, Richa Chadha, Bhumi Pednekar, Shekhar Kapur and others lauded the young filmmaker for the feat.

Among these congratulatory posts were some posts that had highlighted the fight that Kapadia had led almost a decade ago, with her alma mater Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), which had costed her a scholarship, a foreign-exchange programme opportunity and a tag of being an “anti-national.”

A voice of dissent in 2015

In 2015, Kapadia was at the forefront of protest against the appointment of actor-turned-politician Gajendra Chauhan as the institute’s chairperson. Chauhan was best known for his portrayal of Yudhisthir in the mega TV serial ‘Mahabharat’, and was also alleged to have connections with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. According to the protesting students, Chauhan did not match the vision and stature of past chairmen of the FTII governing council, and his appointment appeared “politically coloured”.

The said protest at one of the most premiere film institutes had lasted more than four months, making it the longest demonstration in the institution’s history. Kapadia’s act of boycotting her classes as a form of protest led to the revocation of her scholarship by the institute.

On August 5, 2015, during the 68th day of the aforementioned protest, while students were absent from classes and voicing their concerns through impassioned speeches, Prashant Pathrabe, the then-director of the FTII, had issued a notice to the 2008 batch students, demanding that they vacate the hostel due to overstaying. Furthermore, an order was issued to assess their film projects, the majority of which were incomplete. The students, deeming Pathrabe’s action “irrational and unjustified,” had then confronted him in his office with the aim to seek clarification. The protesting students surrounded his office, forming a human chain, and held him captive. In response, the police conducted a midnight crackdown, resulting in the arrest of five students. Approximately 35 students, including Kapadia, were later named in the charge sheet.

Consequently, despite being one of the most promising students of her batch, Kapadia was deprived of an opportunity to be on a coveted foreign exchange programme, as well as a scholarship of Rs 22,000. She also had to face a hate campaign against her that had deemed her to be an “anti-national”, asking her to “Go Back to Pakistan.”

It is to be noted that the said 35 students, which included Kapadia, had sections 143, 147, 149, 323, 353 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code invoked against them. The section dealt with offenses such as unlawful assembly, criminal intimidation and rioting. A Pune court had taken cognizance of the case and the chargesheet had been filed in the year 2016.

As per a report of Mathrubhumi, Advocate Chinmay Inamdar, who is defending the students in the case filed, said that the case remains pending in the Court. As stated by Inamdar, the prosecution had filed the chargesheet but not submitted the video file in the form of CD/DVD or pen drive of the incident of the director being gheraoed in 2015. Since the video is not available with the defence, they cannot move a discharge application in the case. As per the report, Inamdar stated that “We have moved an application before the court to get a copy so that we can file a discharge application for the students and the matter is pending for this.”

The Matrubhumi report also provided the statement of Ameya Gore, one of the 35 students who were booked in the case. As per Gore, pursuant to the incident, the majority of the students faced issues with scholarships and obtaining passports. Speaking about the case, Fore stated that “The case is still ongoing in the Sessions Court, but there has been no progress from the prosecution’s side. The trial has not started yet. Hearings are generally scheduled every two to three months, but nothing happens because nobody from the prosecution shows up.”

Ironically, only a month after this win, on June 26, Kapadia has her hearing scheduled in the Pune Court.

Notably, in 2017, the new FTII director Bhupendra Kainthola had issued a letter of support and funded Payal’s travel to Cannes for her short film screening. The said short film was ‘A Night of Knowing Nothing’ for which she won the ‘le prix du documentaire’ for Best Documentary. Interestingly, FTII and Hindutva politics were the twin themes of Kapadia’s debut docu-feature. The said documentary is yet to be released in India.

Many now conveniently support, claim credit in Kapadia’s win:

As the news of Kapadia winning the prestigious award broke out, FTII took up the opportunity to congratulate Kapadia, conveniently forgetting its own actions and charged against her. In its post, the FTII stated, “It is a moment of pride for FTII as its Alumni create history at Cannes. As we witness a phenomenal year for Indian Cinema at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, FTII cherishes the glorious achievements of its Alumni at this Mega International Stage of Cinema. We congratulate Payal Kapadia for winning the Grand Prix Award, Santosh Sivan for receiving the 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.”

In addition to this, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to ‘X’ to congratulate Kapadia by posting “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’. 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.”

It is to be noted that the BJP party was the ruling party in 2015 when the “anti-national” smear campaign was being run against Kapadia. The party had not said a word in support of the protesting students that were being targeted.

The past not forgotten:

After FTII put out the post congratulating Kapadia, actor Ali Fazal was quick to call out the institute’s hypocrisy. Taking to ‘X’ (formerly Twitter), Faizal reposted FTII’s post with the caption “Uhhh… please don’t. Just don’t”.

Many other social media users had also criticised FTII’s stance, calling it hypocritical. One such criticism was put out by Oscar winning sound designer Resul Pookutty also called out FTII in a lengthy post on Facebook. He wrote, “But the big win came from #payalkapadia #AllWeImgineAsLight. It would be interesting to pause for a moment and think, has Indian Film Industry anything to do with this win?! None! Who all are been taken to Cannes by Govt. of India as delegation every year?! The usual suspects and familiar faces from mainstream Industry… What makes Payal’s win so important?! Not just that she is from FTII, that the is from a group of people/ students enthusiasts who are regular people who come from varied corners of India and signed themselves to be strugglers for the rest of their lives (sic).

Through bad times and good:

An exception to those who have now come out to celebrate Kapadia’s success standing Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. Even in 2015, Gandhi had come out in support of the protesting students of FTII.

Visiting the FTII College during the protest, Gandhi had urged the government to hold a conversation with the protesting students and listen to their demands. In a social media post, Gandhi had written “The students only want to say that the government should listen to their voice, there should be discussion and dialogue.”

Gandhi had also written a memorandum to the President of India in support of the FTII students.

When the crackdown of the police had taken place against the protesting students, which had resulted in the arrest of 5 students, Gandhi had written “Protesting #FTII students arrested in #midnightcrackdown.Our students are not criminals Modiji.Silence.Suspend.Arrest; ModiMantra for AcheDin”

On Kapadia’s present win at 77th Cannes Film Festival, Rahul Gandhi had written a congratulatory message for Kapadia which stated “Congratulations to Payal Kapadia and the entire team of ‘All We Imagine as Light’ for clinching the prestigious Grand Prix award.”



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