Humble, gracious, brave: Payal Kapadia’s SCMSophia collegemates, teachers on the Grand Prix winner | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Humble, gracious, brave: Payal Kapadia’s SCMSophia collegemates, teachers on the Grand Prix winner

May 26, 2024 09:26 PM IST

Kapadia, who studied at Mumbai's SCMSophia before enrolling at FTII in Pune, is described by her former classmates and teachers as modest and self-effacing

Payal Kapadia's All We Imagine as Light, a meditative study of difficult relationships set in Mumbai, but which employs a road trip to examine those ties – between a Malayali nurse and her young roommate, and those to whom the two are bound, won the Grand Prix at the 77th Cannes Film Festival on Saturday. Kapadia is the first Indian filmmaker to pick up the award. Her earlier work, the documentary A Night of Knowing Nothing, was awarded the Golden Eye at the same festival in 2021.

Payal Kapadia with her cast Chhaya Kadam, Divya Prabha and Kani Kusruti after she was awarded with the Grand Prix for the film All We Imagine as Light by Viola Davis during the Closing Ceremony at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.(AFP)
Payal Kapadia with her cast Chhaya Kadam, Divya Prabha and Kani Kusruti after she was awarded with the Grand Prix for the film All We Imagine as Light by Viola Davis during the Closing Ceremony at the 77th edition of the Cannes Film Festival.(AFP)

Kapadia, who obtained a post-graduate diploma at Mumbai's SCMSophia in 2008 before enrolling at the Film and Television Institute of India in Pune, is almost universally described by her former classmates and teachers as modest, self-effacing, creative, moody and gracious. But this belies her command over the medium, and her fierce spirit, which was on display when, in 2015, she joined forces with other students during a 131-day agitation against former FTII chairman Gajendra Chauhan's decision to assess incomplete projects of the graduating class of 2008.

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We spoke to SCMSophia alumni (some of whom went on to study with her at FTII and one of whom worked as a photographer on All We Imagine as Light), and teachers. Edited excerpts from the conversations:

"I was fresh out of SCMSophia (in 2023). As any other person in Bombay, I was looking for an opportunity to begin my career here. And to have gotten the role of the behind-the-scenes photographer for All We Imagine as Light, I couldn't be luckier. Payal was gracious enough to take a chance on me and throughout the shoot I was made to feel like a part of the team. [It's] A true alumni association to be part of a triumphant journey along her side. This Cannes win is a joyous moment for us all," says Aboli Maharwade.

“I remember Payal Kapadia at the admission interview at SCMSophia,” says Jerry Pinto, journalism and creative writing faculty at the institution. “She had brought with her an interesting portfolio of paintings she had done as a young person. But, as soon as she presented it to us, she said, 'It's a bit sterile, no?' I remember saying to her: 'Don't say bad things about your own work, there will be enough people to say bad things about it.' I'm so glad that today she has achieved so much and has got so far.”

Anushka Shivdasani Rovshen, founder Running Cow Films, who taught film at SCMSophia when Kapadia studied there, said, “There has never been a day when Payal has not been an artist. I met her when she was just 21 at an interview for admission into SCM, and could already feel her evolved sensibility. She didn’t know it then, but I did, and I’m sure I speak for many. After that, we worked together at Dungarpur Films from 2008-2010 and then she was my backbone when I began Running Cow films in 2011 until she left for FTII ( She even named the company).”

Rovshen, who is also an SCM alumna, added: “Payal is thoroughly rooted in and endlessly inspired by her country - its people, its mythology, its ethos. Her work is truly awakening - it is personal and political at the same time, shedding light on humanity with great depth and nuance. The best part of watching Payal’s work is finding her in it – her voice takes many shapes and forms – but it’s there in every character, holding your hand as you watch, and making your heart ache.”

"I was Payal's batchmate. I remember her as being extremely intelligent, creative, bustling with ideas, moody, eccentric," says Rashmi Yadav, of the 2008 batch. “We were divided into four groups at SCM. We were not in the same group, but I remember the film made by Payal and her group, it was named Chinese Vada Pao, it was a documentary film. But to see that student film coming together as a classmate, and a friend and now a fan, was a delightful experience.”

Nirmita Gupta, who teaches advertising at SCMSophia and is the former head of department, says: "I remember the entrance test interview with Payal. She had done some very interesting installation art at her college before SCM and I was really excited to see what energy she would bring to the class. She was very keen on films and was quite a chilled-out student."

"I vividly remember my first conversation with Payal in 2017 when I joined FTII. Her student short film, Afternoon Clouds, had just premiered at Cannes. As an excited 21-year-old, I congratulated her, but she remained humble and modest," says Priyanka Arora, a student of SCMSophia's 2018 batch who is now an executive producer and editor. "Payal wasn't just my senior at FTII, but also at SCMSophia. Sharing the same values instilled in us at SCMSophia made forming a friendship easy. I assisted her with her diploma film and later in the post-production of A Night of Knowing Nothing. Both Payal and Ranabir (Das, Kapadia's partner and cinematographer of All We Imagine as Light) are incredibly kind, thoughtful, and imaginative individuals. Many of my friends, both juniors and seniors, contributed to All We Imagine as Light. This achievement is monumental, especially for every woman aspiring to make films."

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