At the recently concluded 70th Cannes International Film Festival, its Cinefondation section saw an Indian nomination — from 31-year-old Payal Kapadia, a fourth-year student at Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India. The film was among 14 works of fiction and two animation films chosen from 2,600 films. Dopeher ke Badal (Afternoon Clouds) is the story of a day in the lives of a 60-year-old widow and her younger domestic help, Malti. In this quiet, tender 13-minute short, created entirely on film and not through a digital camera, Kapadia explores the territory of unspoken desires, sexual and otherwise. She also uses artist Arpita Singh’s work to further the story. Excerpts:
You are the only filmmaker to represent India at Cannes this year. Are we not creating enough discernible films in India?
I don’t think this is the case every year. It just so happened that this year there was nothing else in the official competition. But having said that we do need funding avenues for non-commercial films. NFDC was a huge source for this. Government funding is necessary to support other kinds of cinema. Today it is difficult to make truly avant-garde films. Few filmmakers such as Gurvinder Singh, Vipin Vijay and Amit Dutta are able to do that.
Why a short film? Tell us about your process.
For me, a short film doesn’t have a complete story. It can arrive at a moment or allude to a sense of something larger. The banal is a space for great fantasies and dreams. Sometimes a window of your room plays out events like a movie screen. We used to have a bright red flower in our balcony called the fireball because it literally looked like one. It flowered only once a year and every time it did, there was a
celebratory ritual. But it stayed only for a few days and we watched it decay with a sense of sadness. But it came back the following year to fill our hearts with joy. I am interested in the cyclical nature of things, which shows in the human condition through the film.
The idea for the story is also inspired by your own grandmother’s story. Could you elaborate?
The film is not inspired but only has a similar premise to her circumstance. I was interested in the idea of a widow who lives alone, and a working woman who is single. Both are single because of different circumstances and for them, finding love is difficult. Love in India is a complicated thing. We cannot talk about it openly, and it comes with mixed emotions of exhilaration and fear.
The story also deals with how women in India don’t express themselves, sexually or otherwise.
It is about desires and yet all desires need not be sexual. These things are very nuanced and delicate. I am trying to find the means to talk about these unspoken desires. In cinema, we can use different means to explore these, through dreams and memories.
Your art lineage (as artist Nalini Malini’s daughter) has found some space in the film since you’ve examined how artists Johannes Vermeer and Rembrandt created light in their works. Tell us about the use of art and its intricacies in your film.
Since the film was shot entirely inside a studio, we had to be careful about how we wanted the sunlight to look. I tried to create a mood with light and shadows. Vermeer does this in his painting The Maid Asleep. I really like the use of colour and shadows that give a larger sense of inner space.
Does the cinema of today need to engage more with politics? Can we ever isolate art and politics?
Not just art, I don’t think anything is devoid of politics. Where I place my camera and how long I hold a shot is my politics.
We have started seeing politics as something separate from us but that is not the case. A filmmaker’s political position shows clearly in her film, no one can shy away from that.
What are your upcoming projects?
I have an experimental documentary in post-production at the moment. I also have my final diploma film. I am in the
process of scripting and researching for my first feature film.