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  4. How did Payal Kapadia’s historic win at Cannes lead to a showdown between Shashi Tharoor and PM Modi? Here’s the complete timeline

How did Payal Kapadia’s historic win at Cannes lead to a showdown between Shashi Tharoor and PM Modi? Here’s the complete timeline

How did Payal Kapadia’s historic win at Cannes lead to a showdown between Shashi Tharoor and PM Modi? Here’s the complete timeline
Mumbai filmmaker Payal Kapadia has recently graced our news after winning the ‘Grand Prix’ — the second-most prestigious award at the 77th Cannes International Film Festival. This award was won by an international co-produced film called ‘All We Imagine As Light’, a 115-minute-long drama written and directed by Kapadia herself.

While the win has directed much discourse towards the current state of Indian cinema, it also spurred another surprising detour towards a controversial avenue after the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) decided to congratulate Kapadia on her well-deserved win. Here’s the entire tea.
How did it start?
The story goes back all the way to 2015, while Kapadia was still a student at FTII — India’s oldest and most premiere film board that is also under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. With a legacy of appointing many prestigious filmmakers as its president, such as the legendary Mrinal Sen and Shyam Benegal, the institute settled on the decision to appoint Gajendra Chauhan as its next chairman.

Many FTII students protested the move as felt betrayed by this appointment. They claimed that Chauhan had not played any significant part in Indian entertainment industry, with him acting as Yudhishthira in the 1980s Mahabharat being his most prominent role. They claimed that Chauhan lacked the expertise and credentials to assume such a pivotal role at the esteemed institution, with some even even painting the move as a political ploy to saffronise yet another of India’s major institutions. The students feared that this appointment would hinder the artistic freedom and creative liberty that was erstwhile celebrated at the campus.

In response to the nomination, a Kapadia-led group of students allegedly organised a 139-day mass protest that involved boycotting classes, even trapping the then-Director Prashant Pathrabe in his office until more clarification was provided. To say that this revolt was not taken lightly would be an understatement.

After the office confrontation, the police were called to stifle the protest and 35 students were charged with various crimes, of which Kapadia and few other students faced the strictest charges. Academic “disciplinary action” was carried out after the arrests of Kapadia and four other protesters – a case still unresolved by the Indian courts. This involved depriving Kapadia and several other students of a scholarship and the chance to participate in foreign exchange programs, in addition to vacating them from their hostels. Many of these students were also demonised by Chauhan supporters, branding them as ‘anti-nationals’ and the like.
FTII softens stance
While the charges still remain unwavered, Payal Kapadia refused to allow these harrowing circumstances to hinder her artistic productivity. Channelling the dissent around her, Kapadia made a documentary titled ‘A Night of Knowing Nothing’, a 2021 documentary about a university student writing letters to her estranged lover in the backdrop of the FTII student protests.

This film premiered at Cannes, the Toronto International Film Festival and the Busan International Film Festival the same year. The docu-film was subsequently awarded prestigious awards at many of these events.

However, this was hardly Kapadia’s first brush with international fame. In 2017, ‘Afternoon Clouds’, a 13-minute-long film about a 60-year-old Mumbai widow and her Nepali domestic help, was selected for screening at the Cannes International Festival. Recognising this, FTII issued a letter of support, offering to cover Kapadia’s travel expenses to the prestigious film festival.
FTII faces backlash for congratulating Payal
After Kapadia’s historic win at Cannes this year — an award that made her the first Indian filmmaker to win the Grand Prix — the FTII congratulated the alumna on X, a move criticised by many.

The post read: “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 77th Cannes Film Festival, FTII cherishes the glorious achievements of its Alumni at this Mega International Stage of Cinema.”

Since their official statement, many prominent celebrities have called the FTII out on their hypocrisy. These personalities deemed that the institute was trying to claim credit for Kapadia’s international success, despite its behaviour towards her and other dissenters in the past.
Ali Fazal, other personalities react to FTII celebration
Ali Fazal, known for his role in 3 Idiots, also criticised FTII for celebrating Payal Kapadia's Cannes win. The actor responded to the FTII congratulatory post with the caption ‘Uhhh… please don’t. Just don’t’.

In addition, sound designer Resul Pookutty, who won an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire, also called out the FTII for celebrating Payal's win. On Facebook, the personality explained that Kapadia's win at Cannes highlighted a significant gap in the Indian film industry's support for independent filmmakers. While the Government of India's annual delegations to Cannes predominantly feature familiar faces from the mainstream industry, Kapadia's success underscores the importance of recognising and supporting passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds, Pookutty asserted.
PM Modi congratulates Payal, Shashi Tharoor reacts
Soon after Kapadia’s win, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also took to X to congratulate the filmmaker. He writes: “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’.”

The PM also highlighted Kapadia’s background as an alumnus of FTII, explaining that her new prestigious accolade will continue to inspire a new generation of Indian filmmakers.

However, many have pointed out that Kapadiy’s earlier four-month-long institutional struggles arose from the Government’s decision to appoint Chauhan as the FTII chairman. Chauhan is also a noted BJP leader, belonging to the same ruling party as PM Modi. Some netizens also responded to the post urging that the party make Chauhan apologise to the filmmaker.

In a separate post, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdraw all cases against Kapadia and the other FTII students who protested the appointment of the institute’s chairperson in 2015. Sharing a post from Resul Pookutty, which alleged that Payal would have to attend a court hearing regarding the FTII incident soon after returning from Cannes, Tharoor reprimanded the Prime Minister for his hypocrisy in applauding her success.

We’ve all dealt with terrible authority figures. Unfortunately for the newest pride of Indian cinema, her adversary ended up being the institution and government itself. However, Payal’s ardent ferocity helped the filmmaker overcome systemic obstacles that would topple most. While Kapadia has expressed gratitude towards FTII for helping fund earlier movies, it remains to be seen how court hearing will unfold further for the talented director.


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