Star Cast: Aditya Modak, Arun Dravid, and Late Sumitra Bhave.
Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
What’s Good: Respect, Indulgence, & Meditation, Chaitanya and his team value each of those three words and create a world that beams hope & hopelessness together in its melancholy. And the climax! Take a bow, you master.
What’s Bad: If you haven’t empathised and fallen in love with any art form ever (be it an obsession with collecting coins), probably The Disciple will make no point for you. And the probability of your existence is 0.5 in 10.
Loo Break: Definitely not. You are meditating, and there are no breaks.
Watch or Not?: As someone who has made a living out of one of the arts he possessed. I want you to watch The Disciple for seeing a side of pursuing art that films sadly never showed.
A Hindustani classical vocalist Sharad Nerulkar is devoted to his art form that demands his existence in return for the accolade it promises to bring with time. His guru says he only practised till the age of 40, without any other thought, not even success. Sharad scales life as he strives hard to keep his art and the form alive, while understanding the flip side to it, and also the notions he has lived with all his life.
The Disciple Movie Review: Script Analysis
I was 12 when I started to learn dance, I decided that would give me a career, but it didn’t. Took up writing about Films at 19, and Eureka! It did end up giving me a position where you are reading this. The Disciple, a meditative character study, reminds me of a beautiful quote by Thomas Merton, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
Oscar entrant Court fame Chaitanya Tamhane’s The Disciple is an explanation of that one line. It is about an artist who is self-doubting, proud and arrogant about it at the same time. Sharad Nevalkar is a boy who is devoted to his Guru who himself chose to live in oblivion, but not let his art being contaminated by western influences. His Guru’s Guru, a near-mythical Mai, also walked on the same path. She is the voice-over who narrates lectures about the music and life of a musician through her secretly recorded speeches throughout the film.
Written by Chaitanya himself, The Disciple is neither a rag to riches story nor is it a territory no one has tapped into. It is purely about the artists who didn’t make it, not because they lost, but because they chose. The reason might be anything. Sharad, for instance, walks on the path his guru teaches him in person, and Mai talks about through the preserved tapes. Seems like he has the blinders put on.
That does not mean he doesn’t want to touch the grass that is the greenest of the green on the other side. Chaitanya pitches Sharad against another classical singer from Bengal who is appearing on a music reality show. Her rise, and his downfall go hand in hand. While finding himself, and watching the notion bubble he has lived in burst, Sharad sees the singer on the TV losing herself as she reaches the top. By the end, a shy girl singing classical at first, is now a complete drag singing an forgotten Bollywood number. But still, she has a stage and Sharad who stuck to his roots, just a handful of people.
The Disciple does not intend to create a social message like Tamhane’s debut Court did. It simply is a study of a character who is driven by his surrounding and commanders. His world is empty, because he finds solace in listening to Mai’s decades-old recordings but refrains from talking to his flesh and bone mother. At one point in the film, Sharad’s thoughts also come out in Mai’s voice, and you understand how his existence is taken over by music that he represents. (Mai is voiced by late Sumitra Bhave. A gem of filmmaker we lost this month)
Not that he is so taken over that he doesn’t have any other shade. The film travels from his mid-twenties, to his late thirties, to a bit of forties. While it is a compilation of a few sequences from those decades, his frame and thought trail is enough to tell you what all those years have done to a hell-bent boy. His relation with his guru, his slow parting ways from Mai. His final realisation of how some humans are born with less of talent and double the passion. Chaitanya in 2 hours shows all of that. And never preachy.
It is not filtered. Sharad ma*turbates in a sequence; he envies the singer on the screen, he even doubts the talent he has polished since the age of 24. He isn’t the Maryada Purshottam, but one amongst us. He is alone in the crowd, but never standing out of it (though he wants to, but…).
I can go on and on about this meditative metaphoric melancholy of a film that unfolds a new layer every 5 minutes. But I would be grateful if you could figure out some of them.
The Disciple Movie Review: Star Performance
Aditya Modak, who plays the lead, is a trained classical singer, who is making his acting debut. I read this fact after watching the film, and not for a minute could I see a man facing the camera for the first time. His command over his emotions, body language, physicality is remarkable. As the years pass, his body starts showing signs of ageing, and the actor manages to look the correct age every single time. He uses his physicality to bring Sharad alive and wins. Even embraces double the weight.
Arun Dravid, who plays Guruji, is a veteran star, and I cannot critique his seasoned performance. Same with Sumitra Bhave. She drives the narrative with her voice over and shows us how even her presence with her voice can elevate a film.
The Disciple Movie Review: Direction, Music
Chaitanya Tamhane as a director, is a monster I would love to be friends with. Having spent a reasonable amount of time with Alfonso Cuaron on the sets of Oscar-Winning Roma, if your doubt is whether that has left an influence on his work? Not at all. Tamhane continues to stick to his roots and make films about them. He makes sure that he proves the language of cinema is spoken by heart, and emotions are universal.
The script analysis very much tells you my opinion about the director’s vision and work. Here I want to talk about his ability to make the best of the climaxes. Remember the Court’s metaphor spilling ending? The judge is sleeping. When a kid irritates, he slaps him and goes back to sleep. The disciple has a similar but more hard-hitting than the previous one.
One has to be in love with art, to know what Chaitanya wants to say. Not necessarily singing. The loneliness around Sharad, or every time he begins listening to Mai, the world slows down. Or how he drives through the same flyover through every decade, and it represents the monotony, and stuck in loop existence. Fun fact: Ranveer Singh’s Murad from Gully Boy also drove through this flyover. The characters share similar trajectories too.
Michal Sobocinski’s camera with the director’s vision, unlike Court, in The Disciple is more moving. But it continues to be indulging and meditative. The frames are static and don’t cut from character to character. They are wide and feature only enough of the universe that Sharad’s mind is.
Music kicks in from the first second. Now I am a bathroom singer. But I could feel how it is structured to stimulate my senses and make me alert to watch the film that unfolds. There is silence, and the tunes of classical instrument hitting at the right time creates a huge impact.
The Disciple Movie Review: The Last Word
I don’t know what more to say about a film that is sitting in my guts like a knot. If you are an artist, it will remind you of the days of innocence, bring you back to reality and tie your feet to the Earth, even when your head is amid the stars. Watch The Disciple without a single doubt. Go in with or without expectations; you will come out a more empathised human. If you don’t, assess yourself!
The Disciple Trailer
The Disciple releases on 30th April, 2021.
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