Cannes 2024 Short Take: All We Imagine As Light is Evocative and Stirring

Payal Kapadia's debut feature is the first Indian film to compete at Cannes Film Festival in 30 years.
Cannes 2024 Short Take: All We Imagine As Light is Evocative and Stirring

All We Imagine As Light is an evocative, stirring portrait of Mumbai and its people – especially immigrants. Payal Kapadia, making her feature debut, tells the story of two Malayali nurses – Prabha, played by Kani Kusruti and Anu, played by Divya Prabha. Prabha is older, more wounded, more weary. Kani’s eyes eloquently convey her damage. Anu is hungrier, for love and for a smidgen of freedom from the confines of the narrow spaces where they live and work. This confinement is also metaphorical. Their lives are circumscribed by society, family, class, the crushing expectations and limitations placed upon them.   

 Payal, an FTII-alum, is best known for her documentary A Night of Knowing Nothing, which premiered at Director’s Fortnight at Cannes in 2021. Her short film Afternoon Clouds was the only Indian film to compete at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Over these films, Payal has honed a specific storytelling style. Love and the lack of it is a recurring theme. She isn’t interested in boundaries of form – animation, fiction, non-fiction flow into each other to create not so much a plot but poetry.

In All We Imagine as Light, Payal and her long-time collaborator and DOP Ranabir Das present Mumbai in all its haunting, oppressive, claustrophobic, grim beauty. To say that the city is another character would be to reduce what they accomplish here. They render on film the angst, anxiety and indifference of millions of people, huddled together, striving to stay alive. At one point, a character who has been displaced by builders, says that they are just creating taller and taller towers, perhaps thinking that someday they will replace God. The actors – Kani, Divya, Chhaya Kadam and Hridhu Haroon work in an understated meter and land the complex and fleeting emotions that Payal threads in. The women are remarkable.

All We Imagine As Light is a film that reveals its gifts at a measured pace and marinates in your head. The second hour, when the action moves to a village, is less effective but Payal is a formidable filmmaker. I can’t wait to see it again.

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