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From Rebel FTII Student To Cannes Winner, Payal Kapadia’s Story Is Rousing

Payal Kapadia
Payal Kapadia, a documentary filmmaker from Mumbai, over the weekend bagged the prestigious Oeil d’Or (Golden Eye) at the 74th Cannes Film Festival for her directorial A Night of Knowing Nothing. 

A graduate of Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Kapadia represented her alma mater on the world stage with her big win, earning the premier institution recognition. The Indian Embassy in France, commemorating Kapadia’s award, offered congratulations to both her and FTII.

But the central place FTII appears to occupy in Kapadia’s journey as an award-winning filmmaker is actually built of layered complexities, the context for which goes back to when she was a third-year student on campus in 2015.

That year, the appointment of actor and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Gajendra Chauhan as Chairman of the institute had sparked wide opposition. Agitated students, alleging Chsauhan’s presence as FTII chief was a political bid to “saffronise” functions on campus, launched protests that spanned 139 days – the longest in the history of the government institute.

Among those spearheading it was Payal Kapadia.

How Payal Kapadia’s Fight As A Student Protestor Sweetens Her Win

A Film Direction student then, Kapadia was a prominent member of the dissenting group boycotting classes and staging strikes demanding a shutdown of administrative offices until such time that Chauhan was removed from his post. As the four-month-long protests stirred a national storm, support poured in extensively for the students, including from India’s film industries.

Reportedly, Kapadia was also among those accused of confining FTII director Prashant Pathrabe and an FIR was filed against her and others for the same. The students later made bail.

Owing to this record of “disciplinary issues,” the institute cut off funding and scholarships for several students involved in the protests. It would have been a lost golden opportunity for Kapadia then when her short film Afternoon Clouds was picked for screening at the 70th Cannes in 2017. Without financial backing from the institute, talent wouldn’t make it to the global arena.

The same year Chauhan’s tenure came to an end. A proud FTII stood in solidarity behind Kapadia, clearing her travel funds to France for the film festival.

Four years later, in 2021, Kapadia’s journey comes full circle with her Cannes victory. 

Kapadia’s other films And What Was the Summer Saying and The Last Mango Before the Monsoon too have been platformed internationally. She has previously stated in interviews that though the “esoteric” ideas she currently has are better suited for the experimental scope of documentary filmmaking, she would like to step into feature films in the future.