''All We Imagine...' win for all women in India who weren't on Cannes stage, says actor Kani Kusruti

"All We Imagine As Light" actor Kani Kusruti says the "surreal" Grand Prix win of Payal Kapadia's film at the Cannes Film Festival belongs to not only its cast and crew but also to several women in India who never got the opportunity to showcase their talent on a global stage.
Team - "All We Imagine As Light". Kani Skusruti (first from left)
Team - "All We Imagine As Light". Kani Skusruti (first from left)

New Delhi | "All We Imagine As Light" actor Kani Kusruti says the "surreal" Grand Prix win of Payal Kapadia's film at the Cannes Film Festival belongs to not only its cast and crew but also to several women in India who never got the opportunity to showcase their talent on a global stage.

Last Saturday, Kapadia became the first Indian filmmaker to win the Grand Prix, the second highest honour at Cannes, for "All We Imagine..." American director Sean Baker's "Anora" scooped the top prize of Palme d'Or at the 77th film extravaganza.

"All We Imagine..." was already under focus for being the first film from India to make it to the European gala's main competition in 30 years; last one being Shaji N Karun's 1994 Malayalam film "Swaham".

When "All We Imagine..." was announced the Grand Prix winner, Kapadia took all three lead actors Kusruti, Divya Prabha, and Chhaya Kadam along with her on the stage.

Kusruti, who had tears of joy in her eyes at the time, said she was happy because Kapadia truly deserved it.

"It feels surreal... That feeling that it was historic for her to receive the Grand Prix... I was extremely happy at that time. I almost couldn't believe it happened. On the stage, I felt it was Payal's win but at the same time somehow I was also reminded of all the women who never got the opportunity to showcase their talent, who we haven't recognised in life," Kusruti told PTI in an interview.

"I felt like this was for all the women in India who have not been able to be on that stage," the actor said.

The Malayalam-Hindi film follows Kusruti's Prabha, a Mumbai nurse whose life is thrown in disarray when she receives a rice cooker from her estranged husband.

Divya Prabha plays Anu, her roommate and colleague, is struggling to find a private spot in the city to spend time with her boyfriend. Prabha's best friend Parvati (Kadam), a widow, is being forced out of her home by property developers.

Asked if the Cannes win would bring any change to her life or career, Kusruti, 38, said, "I don't think any change will happen in my career and that's not how a change should happen in an actor's life." Known for the 2020 award-winning Malayalam film "Biriyaani" and web series "Maharani" and "Poacher", Kusruti had to fly back to Kochi from Cannes soon after the award ceremony as she had to start shooting for Malayalam web series "Eyes" with Manu Ashokan.

"I would have liked to spend one-two more days with the team. Really wanted to share the happiness so I quite miss a lot of them. I'm waiting for Divya to come back to Kochi and spend some time with her," she added.

From receiving an eight-minute standing ovation at Cannes post its screening to receiving glowing reviews in international press, "All We Imagine..." clicked at the gala like no other film from India had in recent times.

The actor said the film resonated mainly with the audience in France and from around the globe as cinephiles who "seek all kinds of expressions" at such international festivals.

"The film has the characters go through emotions that are extremely personal but it also resonates with everybody in the world. The audience for films who seek out all kinds of films at festivals will naturally resonate with them." According to Kusruti, Kapadia's script was "poetic, gentle, subtle yet very moving". She also credited cinematographer Ranabir Das and film editor Clement Pinteaux for their work.

"You read her script and you'll be in tears... When I read the script and watched the film, I realised Payal managed to not lose the spirit that the script had. The way Ranabir has shot, how Clement has edited it, the music and everything falls in the right place," she added.

Working on the 114-minute film, an India-French co-production, was an out-and-out collaborative effort, she said.

Film's co-dialogue writer Robin Joy translated Kapadia's story in Malayalam and assisted the filmmaker in getting every word sound right for the lines.

"Robin has done a wonderful job of translating it into Malayalam. Even when I was auditioning, I was very touched by the lines. A lot of people may find it a little alien to them because it's not written in slang or any local language of Kerala. It was poetically written and to be able to articulate some particular lines is not very easy.

"During the shoot, I would say 'Can we use this word?' We would change the word and then Payal would listen to both and then say 'No, this sounds better or that's better.' She has worked closely with Robin on every word he had proposed." She may have lived the character of Prabha on screen in "All We Imagine...", but the actor said it would take her a long time to accept someone like her in real life.

"I may not connect with the character like that but I should be inclusive of people in life so I know it allows us to learn from each other and grow. She carries a lot of baggage of values and socially constructed things.

"I wonder why is she like this? She should just let go and live her life. Despite being financially independent, she's very restricted. I don't like her conservative ideas, the rigidity of hers. She's also a workaholic and there are certain things I like about her."

Both Kapadia and Kusruti praised the thriving Malayalam film industry as a haven for both commercial and independent films during media interactions in Cannes. However, the actor maintains Malayalam cinema was always a centre of "unique stories" in all budgets whether it was the 70s, 80s or early 90s, except for a low patch in 2000s. What has perhaps changed is the access to these stories via streaming platforms, she added.

"All We Imagine..." also stars Hridhu Haroon.

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