The Disciple only Indian film to make it to TIFF this year, director Chaitanya Tamhane says ‘would have been great to present it in person’ – world cinema

Published by Razak Mohammad on

Mumbai-based director Chaitanya Tamhane is currently in the first week of a mandatory quarantine regime in India, after he retuned from Venice on Monday. That may be a small price to pay for being able to walk the red carpet at the Biennale as his feature, The Disciple, premiered at the prestigious Italian film festival. In a year that’s been a downer for movies thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, The Disciple, is also the only Indian selection at the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF.

“It was a bit of suspense” for Chaitanya to get to Venice since he required “special exception” to travel from the Ministry of External Affairs. It was the first Indian film since Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding in 2001 to be selected in the competition category at Venice. Chaitanya will have to visit Toronto virtually as restrictions on non-essential travel remain in Canada. As he said in an interview, “It would have been great to present the film in person but given this year and given the safety protocols that Toronto has in place, I totally want to respect that for my own safety and for the safety of others.”

A deeply contemplative exploration of the evolution of a Hindustani classical vocalist in Mumbai, The Disciple, which is mainly in Marathi, is already being feted globally and won the FIPRESCI International Critics’ Prize at Venice Film Festival. “We’re just so grateful and relieved that the film premiered at Venice and is now in Toronto, just happy that even in this year we could get a film out and also for us this is a great start. We couldn’t have asked for a better like fall festival launch,” the director said.

 

Chaitanya took four years to complete the film, including spending half that time on research. “When I started out, I was just fascinated with the anecdotes and the stories of eccentric geniuses and this idea of some secret knowledge and lost wisdom,” he said. The cast comprises first time actors, mostly trained classical exponents, including the exceptional performance of Aditya Modak, who plays the central role of Sharad Nerulkar, a young man torn between the somewhat ascetic sensibility required for his art and the pressures of reality and modernity. Casting non-professionals was a “very very thorough” process for Tamhane, as he said, “Because you just need to make sure they have the screen presence they have an intuition for acting because they will be ultimately delivering scripted lines.”

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The meditative film is a slow burning flame spanning three time periods, as it tracks Nerulkar’s development. Making it special is the incredible music, including the vocal art at its core, making this a work where sound and sight complement and enhance each other.

This is Tamhane’s first feature since Court in 2014, and he was mentored by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, winner of multiple Oscars for films like Gravity and Roma. Cuaron is also the film’s executive producer, which for Chaitanya was “almost too good to be true.”

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