Cannes Film Festival 2024: Day 11: Thursday, 23 May: All We Imagine as Light (2024)

All We Imagine As Light is a beautiful film about the contrasting lives of three women in India, the second film directed by award-winning Payal Kapadia.

The Bearable Lightness of Being

by Alexa Dalby

All We Imagine As Light

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

All We Imagine As Light looks beautiful. Mumbai, where the first half is set, is a huge city, bustling with crowds, in its busy streets or struggling to get on crowded trains. Mumbai is almost a character in the first half of the film: it draws people to it, but it can also destroy them, as voiceovers confess. The autumn rain soaks everyone.

The film follows three women of different generations, who all work at a central Mumbai hospital.

The central character is Prabha (Kani Kusruti), a kind but hesitant senior nurse, whose life consists of work. She shares a flat with Anu (Divya Prabha), a younger, more flighty nurse, whose secret boyfriend is a Muslim, Shiaz (Hridhu Haroon), though it is difficult for them to be alone together. Older widow Pavarty (Chhaya Kadam) is the hospital cook, about to be evicted from her home by developers. Prabha tries to help her with a lawyer connection but has to accept Pavaty’s husband died without passing on the necessary paperwork to prove it was theirs.

Prabha’s daily routine is upset with the unexplained arrival by post of a rice cooker. Red and gleaming, it is like an alien in her flat. There is no sender, but it is German, so she guesses it is from the husband she was in a brief, arranged marriage with, who left afterwards to work in Germany: she has not heard from him for a year. If it is from him, it could either show his desire to get back together with her or, more likely, his desire to end the relationship.

A temporary doctor at the hospital (Azees Nedumangad) delicately expresses his feelings for her, but though we can see she reciprocates, she does nothing.

Anu is a junior nurse, determined to go to any lengths to lie to spend time with her Muslim boyfriend, even though this is giving her a bad reputation. Prabha is warned. Anu is unexpectedly kind, giving free contraception to a young wife at the hospital who already has three children; and she brings a pregnant cat home, even though she cannot pay her rent.

There’s a brief scene of a union meeting for nurses. The issue exists and is mentioned but not exploited.

Pavaty gives up trying to live in the city: she thinks she cannot fight a big corporation. In the second half of the film, accompanied by Prabha and Anu, she returns to her home village with nothing – to a shack with no electricity between the beach and the lush tropical forest. The different location changes everything and everybody in the film.

Women on the whole in the film are second-class citizens, defined by their relationships with men at different stages in their lives, trying to survive together as best they can in a patriarchal society. In the quiet of the countryside and the sea, with unaccustomed free time, the three central women gain confidence in themselves and grow to support each other, in a gentle, unspoken way, across the generations.

After a traumatic event, the title is explained, tying the strands of lives together. Throughout, whether in city or country, the film glows with different kinds of light, internal and external: mobile phones, traffic lights, fairy lights and fireworks.

It’s a lovely film that gently observes contrasting desires and denials.

Director and writer Payal Kapadia is best known for having won the Golden Eye award for best documentary film at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival for her film A Night of Knowing Nothing (Directors’ Fortnight). In 2017, her film Afternoon Clouds was the only Indian film that was selected.

All We Imagine As Light premiered in Competition at Cannes on 23 May 2024 and screened again on 24 May. It was awarded the Grand Prix on 25 May 2024. It is the first Indian film in Main Competition since 1994 and Kapadia is the first female Indian filmmaker to screen a movie in Competition. It won the Grand Prix on 25 May 2024. International sales are by Luxbox and representation by The PR Factory.


Join the discussion