A 13-minute film from a third year student of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) is the nation’s only official entry to the Cinéfondation section of Cannes Film Festival 2017; here’s a tête-à-tête with the director, Payal Kapadia, who shot the film quintessentially on celluloid to keep the colours natural for a story that was partly inspired from the life of her grandmother.
Your short film is selected in the Cinefondation section of Cannes this year – the only official entry to the festival from India. How do you feel?
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.
Tell us something about your film and what inspired you to pursue the story.
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 of love and loneliness. In the 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. Having grown up in a family of a majority of women, I was interested to explore what surrounds me. I believe that the mundane everyday is a space for great drama as it is here where fantasies come alive. I was also inspired by the painter, Arpita Singh’s work and the way she looks at vulnerability and desire from the female perspective.
Are you compulsively a short filmmaker or a feature length film is always around the mind?
The short film format and the feature film format have completely different approaches. For me, a short film is closest to a poem. In the short duration of time, I believe that an entire story with a plot cannot be explored. It must be open ended, like a haiku, where there are three lines, often seemingly unrelated. But, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I am interested in cinema of this kind. For me, films work on absences as much as they do on presences. Those absences leave space for the audience to reflect upon their own experiences and therefore, find their own entry point into the film.
I am interested in making a feature film after graduating from FTII. This is something I have not yet explored as the notion of time will be completely different here. But, most of our cinema learning has been through watching feature films, so, it is definitely a medium I want to explore. I like experimenting with the ideas in temporality and ecliptically narrative structures. In Indian storytelling traditions, there are various examples of myths and oral tales that do not have a western notion of chronology or time. These structures interest me and I hope to try and use them in cinema as well.
Who are your inspirations in world cinema and how do you keep your work internationally relevant?
There are a lot of filmmakers whose works have inspired me for various different 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. 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.
What do you expect from Cannes? Did life change after the announcement?
I am excited to attend the festival in May. I have had a lot of support and encouragement from my school as well as people who have read about the news. Thanks to the selection, this film will receive a larger audience now. I am grateful for that. I hope that this gives me the opportunity to continue to make the films that excite me even after completing my term at FTII.
FTII is one the pioneers of film studies in India. How do you feel when the institute makes headlines for political vendettas? How closely do you associate yourself with the situation?
No institute is devoid of its problems and FTII is no exception. However, being here has been one of the greatest learning experiences for me. The FTII faculty encourages its students to experiment with cinematic forms and allows freedom to explore one’s ideas to the fullest. Students from varied socioeconomic backgrounds are able to make films here, which is a rare scenario, considering how expensive cinema education can be in a non-governmentrun set up. Having these diverse students as one’s peers is also an important contribution to one’s learning.
How do you balance politics and art? What are your upcoming projects that we can look forward to?
I do not believe that art can be devoid of politics. Whether it is a conscious decision or not, a filmmaker’s aesthetic choices reflect how she sees the world that surrounds her. Here, the definition of ‘politics’ is way vaster than it is commonly used. 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.
I am currently working on an experimental documentary film, which is another project at FTII. Also, I am simultaneously writing a feature film, which is still in the early scripting stages.