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India celebrates historic Grand Prix win at the Cannes Film Festival

Kani Kusruti, left, Chhaya Kadam, Payal Kapadia and Divya Prabha pose with the Grand Prix award for "All We Imagine As Light" during the festival's closing ceremony. (Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)
Kani Kusruti, left, Chhaya Kadam, Payal Kapadia and Divya Prabha pose with the Grand Prix award for "All We Imagine As Light" during the festival's closing ceremony. (Stephane Cardinale/Corbis/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)
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Filmmaker Payal Kapadia made history Saturday, as she became the first person from India to clinch the prestigious Grand Prix at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, the second highest prize after the Palme d’Or.

Kapadia’s film “All We Imagine As Light” is a drama centred on two Malayali nurses who have moved to a beautifully shot Mumbai, and are navigating life, love and sisterhood.

It is the first Indian movie in three decades to compete in Cannes’ main competition.

“It was already a dream to be selected in competition and this was beyond my imagination,” Kapadia said in her acceptance speech, turning to face the Cannes’ jury, which this year include director Greta Gerwig and actor Lily Gladstone.

“Please don’t wait another 30 years to have an Indian film,” she said to the audience.

The win has reverberated across the country, with many on social media including top politicians, remarking on its significance.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on X that the country was “proud” of Kapadia’s “historic feat.”

“Her remarkable talent continues to shine on the global stage, giving a glimpse of the rich creativity in India. This prestigious accolade not only honours her exceptional skills but also inspires a new generation of Indian filmmakers.”

Rahul Gandhi, a leader of India’s main opposition political party, the Indian National Congress, also congratulated the director, along with Anasuya Sengupta, the first Indian actor to win Best Actress for her role in “The Shameless,” in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section.

“Indian stars shining bright… These women have scripted history, and inspired the entire Indian film fraternity,” he wrote on the platform.

Sooni Taraporevala, the screenwriter on “Salaam Bombay!” which won the festival’s Camera d’Or in 1988, told CNN that Kapadia’s “unprecedented” win “has personally touched women and those in the indie film space.”

“(It’s) allowed us to dream and hope and celebrate her with unabashed pride and joy,” she said, adding that India’s independent film scene can feel “hopeless” in an industry “dominated” by mainstream productions.

“All We Imagine As Light” received an eight-minute standing ovation when it premiered during the festival.

Some have pointed to the film’s depiction of the romance between one of the main characters and her Muslim boyfriend as particularly bold, given the country has become increasingly polarized along religious lines.

India is the largest film producing country in the world, but still lags behind Hollywood when it comes to making movies that gain international recognition and pick up major awards.

Last year the Telegu-language historical fantasy “RRR” became the country’s first feature film to win an Oscar for best original song. The tune “Naatu Naatu” was praised for its catchy beat and vibrant dance moves.

“The Elephant Whisperers,” directed by Indian filmmaker Kartiki Gonsalves, also took the prize for best documentary short at the ceremony.

In 1947, filmmaker Chetan Anand took Cannes’ top prize for his film “Neecha Nagar,” becoming the only Indian to win the accolade.

Kapadia had previously won the festival’s L’Oeil d’Or award in 2021 for her acclaimed documentary “A Night of Knowing Nothing,” about how a film student in India tries to continue a relationship with her ex, despite being from a different caste.

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