Payal Kapadia made history at the Cannes Film Festival, becoming the first Indian director to win the Grand Prix, the second-most prestigious award after the Palme d’Or. Kapadia won the honour for her debut feature All We Imagine As Light, starring Kani Kusruti and Divya Prabha as Malayali nurses working in Mumbai.

In its review, Scroll described All We Imagine As Light as a “poetic exploration”, adding that “Kapadia’s beautifully filmed screenplay is a triumph of place and mood”. The movie also stars Chhaya Kadam and Hridhu Haroon in key roles.

The mainly Malayalam-language, Indian co-production was the first Indian title to be selected for the prestigious Competition section at Cannes in 30 years after Shaji Karun’s Swaham. Kapadia is also the first Indian woman nominated in this category. The Grand Prix win is especially significant considering that All We Imagine as Light is 38-year-old Kapadia’s first full-blown fiction film.

The jury for the 77tth edition was led by Barbie director Greta Gerwig and included Hirokazu Kore-eda, Eva Green, Lily Gladstone, Nadine Labaki and Omar Sy.

Kapadia was up against 21 other films, many of them by the heavy-hitters of world cinema. These included Mohammad Rasoulof’s The Seed of the Sacred Fig, Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kinds of Kindness, Sean Baker’s Anora, Francis Ford Coppola’s Megapolis, Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Perez, Jia Zhang-Ke’s Caught By The Tides, Christophe Honore’s Marcello Mia, Miguel Gomes’s Grand Tour, David Cronenberg’s The Shrouds and Michel Hazanavicius’s The Most Precious of Cargoes.

Anora, about a stripper who marries the son of a Russian oligarch, won the top prize, the Palme d’Or.

The Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) was previously titled “Grand Prix du Festival International du Film” between 1939 and 1954. In 1964, when the Palme d’Or was replaced again by the Grand Prix, Chetan Anand’s Neecha Nagar shared the prize with 10 other movies. In 1975, the Palme d’Or was reintroduced as the festival’s top honour.

All We Imagine As Light (2024).

History was also made in the parallel Un Certain Regard section. Production designer and actor Anasuya Sengupta shared the acting award for The Shameless with Abou Sangre in The Story of Souleymane. In Bulgarian director Konstantin Bojanov’s film, Dasgupta plays Renuka, a sex worker who has a life-altering relationship with Devika (Omara Shetty). The Shameless has been filmed in Nepal and Mumbai.

The Shameless (2024).

Kapadia ensured that her three actresses accompanied her to the stage. In her acceptance speech, Kapadia thanked the cast, her crew, and the producers for supporting her “weird idea”.

Kapadia’s victory seals her reputation as a fast-rising talent. The award is also a recognition for Kapadia’s alma mater, the Film and Television Institute of India. The hallowed film school is a frequent target of Hindutva supporters for the support its students have shown for protest movements, including the Citizenship Amendment Act and the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula.

Kapadia explored the demonstrations in A Night of Knowing Nothing, which premiered at Cannes in 2019. The documentary won the Oeil d’or (Golden Eye) award in its category.

Another FTII student triumphed at Cannes. Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know picked up the La Cinef award in the student film category. Chidanand S Naik’s film, about an elderly woman who steals the village rooster, has cinematography by Suraj Thakur, editing by Manoj V and sound by Abhishek Kadam.

Sunflowers Were the First Ones to Know (2024).

The ACID Cannes section’s line-up included the Ladakh-set In Retreat by Maisam Ali, who is Kapadia’s batch mate. FTII graduate Santosh Sivan was awarded the Pierre Angenieux Tribute, which is given to cinematographers. Sivan, who has shot some of the best-known Indian films as well as directed Terrorist, is the first Asian to be given this award.

In other major awards, dissident Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof won the Special Jury Prize for The Seed of the Sacred Fig. The director, whose films have been openly critical of the Iranian government, fled Iran for Germany in May after being handed down an eight-year prison sentence. Several of his films have been banned in Iran in the past.

The clandestinely shot The Seed of the Sacred Fig is about a lawyer who clashes with his family amidst the recent protests against Iran’s authoritarian regime. At the premiere, Rasoulof held up photographs of Iranian actresses Misagh Zare and Soheila Golestani, who have been banned from leaving Iran to be in Cannes.

Miguel Gomes won Best Director for Grand Tour. The Best Actress was bagged by the ensemble cast of Jacques Audiard’s Emilia Perez, about a trans drug cartel leader.

Best Screenplay was won by Coralie Fargeat for The Substance, a body horror film that she also directed with Demi Moore. Jesse Plemons was named Best Actor for Kinds of Kindness. The Camera d’Or, the award for the best first feature, went to Halfdan Ullmann Tondel’s Armand.

George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars franchise, was given an honorary Palme d’Or.

Also read:

‘All We Imagine As Light’ review: A poetic exploration of love and dreams

In ‘A Night of Knowing Nothing’, the hopes and dreams of young Indians