When Payal Kapadia led 131-day FTII student protest against Yudhishtir of 'Mahabharat'

Payal Kapadia
Payal Kapadia. Photo: LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Payal Kapadia made history on Saturday night by winning the Grand Prix for 'All We Can Imagine As Light' at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. However, back in 2015, she was a beleaguered student at the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), which was in turmoil over the controversial appointment of Gajendra Chauhan, a BJP activist best known for his role as Yudhishtir in the TV serial 'Mahabharat', as its chairman. Kapadia, who had got into FTII on her second attempt in 2012, was one of the leaders of the 131-day protest against Chauhan, who, incidentally, was opposed by a phalanx of Bollywood celebrities, from Rajkummar Rao and Nawazuddin Siddiqui to Anupam Kher, and also by Soumitra Chatterjee and Jhanu Barua. As several people pointed out on X after Kapadia's Grand Prix win, FTII initiated disciplinary action against her when she led the boycott of classes. Later, FTII cut her grant. In the same year, the Pune Police filed an FIR against 35 students, including Kapadia, after they held the then FTII director, Prashant Pathrabe, captive in his office.

They were protesting against his decision to proceed with the assessment of incomplete student projects of the 2008 batch. FTII and Hindutva politics, interestingly, are the twin themes of Kapadia's debut docu-feature, 'A Night of Knowing Nothing', that won the Golden Eye at Cannes 2021. The film is still to be released in India. Going back to Kapadia's FTII days, she was making a mark creatively as she was firming up her reputation as a firebrand student leader.

Her 13-minute film, 'Afternoon Clouds', was the only Indian entry in competition at Cannes in any category in 2017 -- and it qualified for the 16-film shortlist for the Cinefondation student film section. The FTII quietly decided to support the film, which enabled Kapadia to walk the Cannes red carpet wearing a sari, and not the designer gowns that usually make the news, for the first time. She did not win a prize, but her film was one of just 16 to be selected out of more than 2,600 that had been submitted for consideration from all over the world. For the Rishi Valley Kodaikanal alumna who studied Economics at Mumbai's St Xavier's College and then Sophia, and thereafter spent five years in advertising before getting into FTII, Saturday night must have felt like heaven after a long journey that started with an FIR.
(With IANS inputs)

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