Writer-Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Cast: Aditya Modak, Dr. Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave
Streaming on: Netflix
Chaitanya Tamhane, a young filmmaker made headlines a few years ago when his directorial debut Court (2014) won multiple awards at the prestigious international film festivals as well as won the National Award for the Best Feature Film in India. It was one of the most realistic and poignant films that I had watched ever. The filmmaker then went on to do a master-protégé program with filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron while the auteur was making his masterpiece Roma (2019) – what an experience that could have been. One can only imagine.
Tamhane’s second feature The Disciple which dropped on Netflix, is a character study of a Hindustani classical singer Sharad Nerulkar (Aditya Modak). Tamhane observes the struggles of this singer and the music itself through wide shots – which is possible to achieve only after you have dug deep into the world. Wonder whether the wide shots which don’t quite allow you to even see the actors’ faces properly, is symbolizing how small and insignificant we are in the larger picture of this world. The Disciple is a poetry of life, and has a cinematic language of its own. Every camera movement tells a story. The impact of working on Roma’s sets is evident. That is, of course, meant as a compliment.
Every frame is a painting (DOP Michał Sobociński and production designers Pooja Talreja & Ravin D. Karde). The film is set in Mumbai, but you see the city like you’ve never seen before. The lone bike rides Sharad takes late at night listening to the audio tapes of a legend of Hindustani classical music respectfully called Maai (voiced by filmmaker Sumitra Bhave who passed away recently) – string the whole film together. There are two types of audiences, one, who watch films just as films and move one and two, who try to find a part of their own in the film. If you are of the latter type, you might feel like Maai is talking to you. It is the poetry of life. It is bitter. And that’s what makes it great.
I don’t understand classical music but I have always been amazed by it. It takes decades of dedication to achieve greatness in it. As Sharad’s Guruji (Dr Arun Dravid) tells him that he got some recognition by the time he was into his 40s. Maai also warns in her audio tapes that if you want to pursue this path, learn how to be alone and hungry. Music by Aneesh Pradhan and sound design by Naren Chadavarkar and Anita Kushwaha are mesmerizing. Tamhane has written and edited the film as well. The dialogue is natural yet sounds lyrical, even to a Maharashtrian like me, it felt like being introduced to your mother tongue in a new way.
Watch The Disciple trailer here:
The Disciple chronicles Sharad’s life from his childhood to him in his forties. This is not a hero’s journey. It’s quite the opposite. The realism in Tamhane’s both films is brutal. You can’t just move on after you’ve watched his films. It is surely going to make you think, might leave you disturbed. In one of the interviews, Alfonso Cuaron had said that Chaitanya is a rare breed of filmmakers. He surely is a master-in-the-making. Eagerly waiting for what he makes next. The Disciple is streaming on Netflix. Make sure that you watch it.