All We Imagine As Light


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

All We Imagine As Light
"It’s fitting for a film set in the “City of Dreams” and that is concerned with life’s illusions and how we navigate them as it is about the here and now." | Photo: Condor Film/Courtesy of Cannes

The ebb and flow of Mumbai’s sea of humanity is charted by three women in Payal Kapadia’s elegant and sensorial All We Imagine As Light. It marks the director’s first fiction feature after her Cannes L'Oeil d'Or-winning A Night Of Knowing Nothing and while her central triptych has a poetic cadence it is framed by documentary elements that offer an immersive sense of the city where it is set.

Water is almost a constant presence, falling in monsoon amounts from the sky but also in the tides on a beach we will ultimately visit. That tidal feeling extends to the fabric of Mumbai, filled as it is with comings and goings as people are tugged this way and that, washing up or being carried off, not always by their own desires. The sense of past and present also has an, at times, almost mystical fluidity in Kapadia’s hands - something that we’ll learn mirrors the Hindi language where “kal” can mean yesterday or tomorrow.

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The lynchpin of the film is nurse Prabha (Kani Kusruti, whose having a great year with this and Sundance cracker Girls Will Be Girls), who is a point of stillness, with a sense that she is enduring her life rather than fully living it. Although she is married, by arrangement, her husband has long since drifted off to Germany, the calls back gradually drying up, which means the sudden appearance of an anonymously gifted rice cooker from Europe reignites all sorts of questions.

Prabha shares her home with the younger Anu (Divya Prabha), who also works at the hospital and who has an aversion to the sort of responsibilities Prabha measures her life in. Despite living under cultural expectations, which suggest she too should enter into an arranged marriage, Anu is engaged in a secret romance with Muslim Shiaz (Hridhu Haroon), her focus is on the moment rather than anything so dull as where the rent money is coming from.

If Prabha represents a fixed point and Anu a sort of free-spirited kick against the system, then the third female character, Parvaty (Chhaya Kadam), is emblematic of those who have little control of the tides of fate. A cook at the hospital, she is facing eviction from the home she has lived in for 20 years and a move back to her home village. These women are also representative of one another’s yesterdays and tomorrows, though the flow from one to the other is never rendered simplisticly.

Kapadia’s film abounds with textures, both physical, like hair or cloth, and emotional, as the women make choices in a world that would largely prefer if they didn’t. There’s an almost lullaby quality to the occasional piano scoring from Dhritiman Das - which also cascades like rain. It’s fitting for a film set in the “City of Dreams” and that is concerned with life’s illusions and how we navigate them as it is about the here and now. Kapadia has an eye for tenderness. It’s built into the craft of her film, especially in the gentle use of low light, often from surprising sources like mobile phones, captured beautifully by cinematographer Ranabir Das. But it’s also there in her character’s interactions, epitomised by the puppy dog sweetness of Dr Manoj (Azees Nedumangad) as he tries to woo Prabha or in Shiaz and Anu’s simple desire to spend time together alone. Even as she explores age-old themes around displacement and finding yourself, Kapadia's light touch means this is a film that carries you with it, buoying you up and bathing you in its ideas. You emerge feeling lighter and cleansed.

Reviewed on: 30 May 2024
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Triptych explores the lives of three women in Mumbai.

Director: Payal Kapadia

Writer: Payal Kapadia

Starring: Kani Kusruti, Divya Prabha, Chhaya Kadam, Hridhu Haroon, Azees Nedumangad, Anand Sami, Lovleen Mishra, Madhu Raja, Shweta Prajapati, Tintumol Joseph, Ardra K.S., Sisira Anil CK, Aparna Ram, Kashish Singh, Nikhil Mathew

Year: 2024

Runtime: 110 minutes

Country: France, India, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy

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