The Disciple

“Saints and ascetics have attained this music after thousands of years of rigorous spiritual pursuits. It cannot be learnt so easily….”, a profound statement made to an aspiring classical music disciple in the film ‘The Disciple’, but true for any person including a filmmaker, who is trying to chase the eluding success in any creative field. Like they say all good films are able to capture the soul of the story, Chaitanya Tamhane has been able to do the same this time again and in a much better way than what he did in ‘Court’. ‘The Disciple’ is a Marathi language Indian film written, directed and edited by Chaitanya Tamhane. Vivek Gomber (producer/actor, who played the male lead in a recently released film Sir) has produced the film. Vivek had also produced Chaitanya Tamhane’s first film ‘Court’. Rikhav Desai edited Chaitanya’s first film ‘Court’, whereas in this film the filmmaker has done research, writing, directing and editing himself. Chaitanya took four years to complete this film, including spending half of that time in research. ‘When I started out, I was just fascinated by with the anecdotes and the stories of eccentric geniuses and this idea of some secret knowledge and lost wisdom.” he has said in an interview. The film‘s executive producer Alfonse Cuaron is a Mexican filmmaker, writer and editor having received Academy Awards four times for his films like Gravity (2013) and Roma (2019). Alfonse, who acted as a mentor for Tamhane for this film worked especially on the visual effects in this film. Aneesh Pradhan, a tabla player and a music historian composed the music. Michal Sobocinski from Poland has done the cinematography. The film entered into the main competition section at the 77th Venice International Film Festival the film won FIPRESCI Critics Award and the Best Screenplay Award. ‘The Disciple’ is a story of the elusive pursuit of excellence or the ‘Truth’ as the film tries to define it. The protagonist, an aspiring classical singer, explores the path of Indian classical music seeking answers to his question whether he will ever achieve his aspiration of becoming a singer of excellence? As an audience if you care to follow the mental journey of the protagonist, you will end up discovering a new world of Indian classical music. This is a film, which needs to be absorbed and assimilated and not only seen or heard. Chances are, if you are creatively inclined, the film will work as a source of inspiration for you. It is a simply mesmerizing film. Each shot of the film is so well composed –naturally lighted and realistically evocative exuding ‘uninterrupted calmness’, which is the undercurrent through out the journey of the film. No excessive camera movement and no Jimmy Jib, the static frames only highlight the instinctual visual interest in the scene. The film uses mainly the non-professional actors. Aditya Modak, who plays the protagonist Sharad Nerulkar, is a classical singer and a chartered accountant. Similarly Dr Arun Dravid (born on October 3rd, 1943, first disciple of Kishori Amonkar, the renowned vocalist of the classical genre khayal and the light classical genres thumri and bhajan), who plays Guru Vinayak Pradhan is a senior exponent of the Jaipur Atrauli Gharana; a gold medalist from IIT, Bombay and a Ph.D. from MIT, USA, currently a Vice President of a large global company Jacobs Engineering Group, California and the Chairman Emeritus of Jacobs Engineering India. He is perhaps the only male musician from that generation, who has preserved and sings the ‘gayaki’ of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana in its purest form. These two along with many others new faces including Deepika Bhide Bhagwat (an upcoming vocalist) and Kiran Yadnyopavit (a writer, director in Marathi cinema) has created a film in cinema verite style. Using real life characters as actors and including mundane details of every day life like the people walking in front of the stage and chitchatting while the singer is performing on stage or the flask of the water being brought and kept in front of the singer, when he is in the middle of his rendition, lend a naturalistic documentary feel to the film. Through these casual moments, the filmmaker is also trying to prick our collective consciousness for being so insensitive to this invaluable part of our heritage . The Voice Over of Mai (done by Late Sumitra Bhave, National Award winning filmmaker) is meditatively enchanting to say the least. It is captivating in tone, tenor and timbre. Juxtaposed over a slow moving bike against the backdrop of Mumbai ‘s empty roads at nights these narrations in themselves are a rich cinematic experience. Watch the film with headphones, if you want to enjoy the visuals as well as the audio of the film. The film flows like a classical raga and takes you on a musical journey of classical music starting with ‘Bandish’ and ends up exploring a ‘Khayal’. The film will certainly ignite your interest in Indian classical music and you would like to dig deeper into this mystical world, like I did. 1.‘Bandish’ is a standard structured melodic composition in Hindustani vocal or instrumental music. The word bandish is derived from Hindi language meaning ‘binding together’. It is set in a specific raga (which is a melodic framework for improvisation based on the idea that certain characteristic pattern of notes aka ‘swaras’ evoke a heightened state of emotion) performed with rhythmic accompaniment by a table or pakhawaj, a steady drone and a melodic accompaniment like a sarangi, violin or a harmonium. In the past gharanas protected their bandishes from going out of the family. 2.‘Khayal’ is a traditional type of song from the northern part of India with instrumental accompaniment and typically having two main stanzas. Khayal connotes the idea of a song that is imaginative and creative in either nature or execution. It is imaginative in conception, artistic and decorative in execution (like the short improvisation called murkiyas) and romantic in appeal. 3.Dhrupad is the older version of khayal, which enjoyed popularity till the 17th or 18th century. The nature of Dhrupad music is spiritual. It does not seek to entertain, but to induce a feeling of peace and spirituality. It gradually declined with the emergence of Khayal, which is more romantic and entertaining. 4.Thumri is derived from the Hindi verb “thumakana”, which means to walk with dancing steps so as to make the ankle-bells tinkle. This form of vocal rendition is connected with dance, dramatic gestures, mild eroticism, evocative love poetry and folk songs. …. Well, all this you can Google and understand, but to satisfy your quest as a cinephile please reflect upon the closing statement of the film. “ Technique is merely a medium to express your inner feeling. Technique can be taught but Truth cannot. For that, you must have the strength to look inwards with unflinching honesty “. This is unparalleled cinema.

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O P Srivastava

A banker-turned filmmaker based in Mumbai. India.

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