It’s been a series of firsts for the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. For the first time, they submitted a film made by a student, to the Cannes film festival. And much to their surprise, the film, Afternoon Clouds, has made it to the official selection of short films under the Cinéfondation forum. The film revolves around the central character, Kaki, a 60-year-old widow, who lives with her Nepali maid, Malati.
For Payal Kapadia (31), Afternoon Clouds’ director, and a third-year student at FTII, being part of a noted international film festival has been a dream come true. She found her calling as a film-maker early on, and always wanted to tell stories on the big screen. However, there was a technical constraint: FTII only accepts graduates for its courses, and, she was an undergraduate. “So, I decided to pursue a course that would give me a more realistic world view,” she says. Kapadia went on to get a degree in Economics at St Xavier’s College (Fort) and then enrolled at FTII.
Yet, despite the need to develop a holistic outlook, Kapadia’s film is a personal story. It is loosely inspired by her grandmother’s life, who had a Nepali maid. Surely, then, it must have been gratifying when the news about the films selection to Cannes broke. “I was pleasantly surprised,” says Kapadia. She is now set to attend the festival next month, and is looking forward to meeting film-makers and students.
The 13-minute short film, starring Usha Naik and Trimala Adhikari, was made as part of an exercise at FTII. The project required students to shoot a film inside a studio. During the two-month pre-production, Kapadia shuttled between Pune and Mumbai. Since it was not based on a real incident, there was room for imagination and detailing.
“The research involved looking at the things that surround me. I am interested in the banal because there is a lot of scope for personal fantasies to manifest there. I visited a lot of Art Deco buildings in Mumbai. I observed the detailing — the curtains, the old ceilings, and how the paint chips over time,” she says, adding that the detailing adds a poetic element to a film.
In the stills that Kapadia shared with us, we see a lot of faces looking away from the camera. It’s intentional. For Kapadia, the story is not just about the characters, but also the spaces they inhabit. That explains her research on Art Deco buildings and architecture — muted colours, negative space, warm sunlight and faded tones are omnipresent throughout the frames.
“It was a challenge to show how colours set the mood or evoke emotions in a film. We shot the entire movie on 35mm film on an ARRI 535 camera. It is easier at FTII as we are allowed to explore our subjects without restrictions, and the institute provides us with the technical equipment,” she says.