New Delhi: Cinema is a way of exploring insecurities, finding nuances and contradictions, and transforming it into a ‘living, breathing story’, says filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane who is making strides internationally with his second film ‘The Disciple’.
The film, which builds on the success of his first venture ‘Court’, looks at the layered world of Indian classical music, and the making of it was a journey of ‘finding answers, finding catharsis for yourself as you go along’ rather than knowing the answers and executing it methodically on paper, he said.
‘It’s the marriage of researching and finding nuances, contradictions, and complexities in this alien world of the Indian classical music, which I had no idea about, and marrying it to themes that are deeply personal to you, concerns that you have about yourself and the world and your own insecurities,’ Tamhane told PTI.
‘And then all of this is sort of transformed into an organic and, hopefully, living, breathing story, which you realise through the medium of cinema,’ the 34-year-old added, explaining why the film is so personal to him.
‘The Disciple’ has Oscar-winning ‘Roma’ director Alfonso Cuaron as executive producer. Cuaron, who met Tamhane through the Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative for 2016–17, was so impressed with the story that he decided to back it.
Cuaron was full of praise for Tamhane when they both sat down for an interview to promote the film ahead of its release on Netflix on April 30.
‘Let us just say he is extremely, extremely generous,’ Tamhane told PTI in the Zoom interview from Mumbai as Cuaron tuned in from London.
The Marathi film, set in the world of classical music in contemporary Mumbai, encapsulates the journey of Sharad Nerulkar (actor-musician Aditya Modak), who diligently follows the traditions and discipline of the old masters – his guru and his father — and devotes his life to becoming an Hindustani classical music vocalist. However, as the years go by, Sharad starts to wonder whether it’s really possible to achieve the excellence he’s striving for.
Tamhane admitted that starting from a place of unknowing and looking for answers to uncomfortable questions makes it hard as ‘that kind of art is coming from a place of discomfort, it’s coming from being brave and having the courage to face your goals’.
Cuaron, Tamhane said, helped him stay true to the ‘first impulse’, which can be challenging as one has to first share the story, which has come after an intense process of refinement and elimination and struggle’ with 150 ot her people and explain it to them.
‘And then you have to go through the process of sending it in the world. So it’s a challenge to keep the integrity and be honest to the very first impulse that you had, and this is something that Alfonso kept telling me through the process, ‘Stick to the very first impulse’… ‘That can be very hard at times when the sun is setting and you’re losing light with 150 people staring at your face, and there’s money being lost with every minute. So, it’s a very schizophrenic journey in that sense and also of something very personal, that you are executing publicly after a point of time,’ he said.
Both the director and Cuaron called ‘The Disciple’ a story that’s grounded in humanity.
‘… not everybody ends up drunk on the road or completely destroyed. As I said, a lot of my own insecurities are reflected in film and it’s my own way of telling myself that you aren’t going to die.
‘Yes, there is an increasing focus on individualism and success and we are a capitalistic, conquest-driven society right now. That’s something I kind of wanted to get away from and explore something more real. So the film, like Alfonso said, is grounded in humanity, about the gaze, about the nuanced gap between success and failure where most of us lie,’ Tamhane said ‘The Disciple’ won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize and the Best Screenplay award at the 77th Venice International Film Festival. It was also screened at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was named a winner of the Amplify Voices Award.
The film’s international triumph has made Tamhane happy but the director said he wants to be a chameleon like his mentor Cuaron, who moves easily through genres, themes and personal stories.
When asked whether he believed in having a signature as an artist, Tamhane said his goal is to be one with the story.
‘It’s a complicated thing, sometimes directors buy into their own story of having a signature… I, personally, want to become one with the story.
‘I would like if I was like Alfonso, where you cannot make out that the same guy has made ‘Children of Men’ or ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’… I don’t know any other filmmaker who’s as versatile, as diverse. He’s like a chameleon. And what’s his signature, it’s just the mastery and the control of the form,’ he said.