A day later Payal Kapadia’s All We Imagine As Light won the Grand Prix at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, Oscar-winner Resul Pookutty’s social media post, questioning if “the Indian Film Industry has anything to do with this win”, went viral. Pointing out that the mainstream industry looks at many graduates from his alma mater, the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, as “outcasts”, the sound designer also spoke about the lack of government support.

During a free-wheeling conversation with The Indian Express, the Padma Shri recipient breaks down what the big India moment at Cannes this year signifies, the struggle of independent filmmakers and the need to create a conducive atmosphere at FTII to facilitate creative interactions. Excerpts:

What made you say that the Indian film industry has nothing to do with Payal Kapadia’s success at Cannes?

It is great that Indian cinema and FTII were in focus at the recent edition of Cannes. If you take the work of Santosh Sivan, AR Rahman or mine, they came into global limelight because of Western validation. However, our work is also nurtured by the film industry. I came out of FTII in 1995 with an idea of ​​restarting the use of live sound in India. I can say this with conviction that Sanjay Leela Bhansali invested in me and the sound for Black (2005). Before people got to know me in 2009 (after the Oscar win for Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire), for 14 years, there was an industry willing to listen to me. Ditto for Rahman and Sivan and many others. That was not the case with Payal Kapadia.

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Festive offer

Had Payal gone to a studio or streamer today with a script like All We Imagine As Light, they would not have even looked at it. Had she tried to meet a mainstream actor, the managers wouldn’t have even let them meet. Today, talent agencies are controlling everything and they are interested in making money. That’s why I said that the Indian film industry has nothing to do with her success.

The role that Anasuya Sengupta plays in The Shameless (she received Best Actress award in Un Certain Regard), no mainstream Indian actor would have come forward to do it. These two achievements are independent of Indian cinema.

Why do you think you could get support but Payal wouldn’t?

Nearly 95 percent of Indian technicians are from FTII and the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata (SRFTI). We need technicians; without them the industry can’t move forward. Direction graduates are not given the same treatment.

You become a sought-after technician because you have a good storyteller within you. That’s something a good director or producer notices. In the case of directors (from FTII) trying to break in, they are always looked at as if they don’t understand mainstream cinema. That’s why I said directors coming out of FTII are seen as ‘outcasts’. What’s mainstream cinema in India? It is a package. They always want the same faces, stories, and song-and-dance sequences. We now need writers and directors with original vision.

Payal Kapadia, Cannes, 77th International Film Festival, Indian Express Payal Kapadia, winner of the grand prize for ‘All We Imagine as Light,’ poses for photographers during the photo call following the awards ceremony at the 77th international film festival, Cannes, southern France. (AP Photo)

Some filmmakers like Anurag Kashyap and Ram Gopal Varma have questioned the need for a film school.

Steve Jobs is a college dropout. That does not mean that everyone should be a dropout. Kashyap says all those DVDs that he watched are his education. We watched three movies a day. We had some good teachers but what FTII gave us is the atmosphere. So many artists such as Ritwick Ghatak and Krzysztof Zanussi came there and left their energy. Not just film personalities but also visiting musicians, sculptors and painters. That atmosphere should be preserved. Every dispensation looked at FTII as anti-establishment. The reason: we raise our voices.

You’ve demanded that the charges against Payal and other students for their protests at FTII be dropped.

I felt that if you are proud of the student (Kapadia), then charges against her do not stand anymore. Gajendra Chauhan is no longer the FTII chairman. If you read the charges against the students, your jaw will drop. They are accused of rioting, unlawful assembly and criminal intimidation. I don’t know if it’s appropriate for an educational institution to press charges against its students. Some decisions can be divisive. Recently, I came to know that the institute won’t approve the students’ association. Ever since FTII was formed, there has been a student body. However, the students going on protests over every issue is not advisable either. The present chairman of FTII, actor R Madhavan, is trying to create an atmosphere conducive for students but there are issues to sort out. (Former FTII chairman) Shekhar Kapur told me most of his time was spent resolving disputes instead of having creative interactions with students. So, we need to create a conducive atmosphere on the campus and trust has to be established.

After Payal’s Cannes win, many criticized the “need for Western validation”. What are your thoughts?

When the Academy saw unorthodox work done by us in Slumdog Millionaire, they showed their appreciation for AR Rahman and me. Ben Burrt (Wall-E, 2008), who was a fellow Oscar nominee in the Best Sound Mixing Category, told me that he was rooting for us. In the West, the artist community expresses selfless love. That’s lacking in India. Also, most awards in India are not considered credible. That’s why these validations are important.

Are you hopeful about things shifting after India’s show at Cannes?

I don’t think Indian cinema is going to change. However, more voices like Payal will come out and they will make movies from their heart.

ALSO READ | Ex-FTII chairperson Gajendra Chauhan on Payal Kapadia’s win at Cannes: ‘Big difference between being talented and disciplined’

You directed the Malayalam-language film Otta last year. What are you planning next?

I went to FTII because I wanted to be a director. I became a good sound person because I was a narrator. It is after working with Danny (Boyle) and, more so, John Madden (The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, 2011), that I understood how to collaborate with an actor to realize a director’s vision. After that experience, I gathered the courage to direct a movie. I have a subject in mind that is contentious. So, we will have to wait. However, this year I want to make another movie — a story of unrequited love — which is set in Mussoorie, Delhi and Mumbai. Next year, I wish to start a school of sound design in Dubai and also in Mumbai.

Caption: Resul Pookutty at his studio in Andheri, Mumbai

Credit: Amit Chakravarty