The history of Indian short films at the prestigious categories of the Cannes Film Festival goes back to 1953, but the last decade wore an otherwise barren look apart from occasional brilliance from film students who got their diploma short films selected in the Cinefondation category.
Kumaaon Hills by MD Bhavnani, New Lands For Old People by Krishna Gopal and The Great Experiment by VR Sarma were the three films that got premiered in the Short Films Competition Category in 1953. Since then, seven films were selected in the Short Film Competition Section till 1959. The next three were huge gaps. The Epitaph by Guru Charan Singh in 1971, Oru Neenda Yathra by Murali Nair in 1996 and A Very Very Short Film by Manish Jha in 2002. Last year it was Satyajit Ray Film & Television Institute (SRFTI) student Saurav Rai’s diploma film Gudh, that was the only official selection at Cannes and this year its FTII student Payal Kapadia’s diploma film Afternoon Clouds.
While the Hollywood is easier to predict in terms of their focus on money, marketing, target audiences and Academy Award voters, the Cannes Film Festival, like its European counterparts at Venice and Berlin, inflicted a rather ostentatious stance of appreciating cinema as a form of fine arts for the Indian Cannes-goers. Beyond the prestige of a Palme d’Or or a Grand Prix at Cannes, Indian producers also look at Cannes as the platform that can help them in promoting their films back home and in creating the much-required buzz that comes from a foreign film festival acclamation. However, the speculation takes a different turn when we see the ground of short filmmaking in India and its undulated growth over the last seven decades.
FTII providing a perspective
When asked about her 13-minute short film, Payal Kapadia was elated as well as poised in her demeanour, stating, “It is a great honour to be selected at the Cinefondation category of the Cannes Film Festival and I feel privileged to be a part of it.” She perceives short films more like poems and conceived blending her passion for celluloid and her deep-seated connection to her grandmother.
“Afternoon Clouds is a film about two single women who live together in an apartment. One is an older widow and the second is her young domestic help, who is a migrant from Nepal. The film examines their circumstances and perspectives on love and loneliness. In Indian society, it is not easy for a woman to express her feeling on matters of love and desire openly. I was interested in trying to explore these feelings through gestures and silences that fall in between spoken words,” Kapadia added.
What inspired the young auteur?
Kapadia has drawn inspiration from a lot of filmmakers for various reasons. “I am especially interested in Asian filmmakers like Naomi Kawase, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ozu, Tsai Ming Liang and Ritwik Ghatak. Other filmmakers like Ben Rivers and Pedro Costa, who practice slower cinema, are very inspiring. I discovered the films of Istavan Szabo at FTII, as a lot of his work is not available digitally. Here, the archives have an excellent collection of his films.”
Experience from life remains another primary source of information for her. “My work comes from very local experiences. In my opinion, if one can be very specific to a situation, it automatically becomes universal rather than general. I don’t know if my work is internationally relevant, but, the point is to evoke a feeling of something that goes beyond national boundaries and through lived experiences.”
One among many
This is the 20th year of the Cinefondation Selection and the 16 films (14 works of fiction and 2 animations) chosen from the 2,600 works submitted this year by film schools from all over the world includes India’s Afternoon Clouds. 14 countries from three continents are represented. The three Cinefondation prizes will be awarded at a ceremony preceding the screening of the prize-winning films on May 26, in the Buñuel Theatre.
What made Payal’s work grab the eyeballs of the Cannes jury? She thinks it’s her conscious effort to be relevant in the time of turbulence of mediocrity and political noise. “In my work, I try to explore the voices of those who are not commonly represented in Indian cinema. My work tends to mix reality, dream, memory and fantasy. Through these thematic and aesthetic devices, I hope to reflect a certain perspective,” Kapadia writes in an email to us.
Keep an eye on the latest issue of India & You for a featured interview with Payal Kapadia and do watch this space for more updates on the upcoming Cannes Film Festival.