Filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane's sophomore feature film The Disciple is making waves in international film festivals. It is also the first Indian film in 19 years to compete for the prestigious Golden Lion in the Venice Film Festival, after Mira Nair's 2001 winner Monsoon Wedding.
We caught up with Chaitanya to talk about how the film was a ray of hope for the team during uncertain times.
“We feel very grateful that Venice Film Festival is continuing to support our work by not only showing faith but also due to the massive upgrade of competing in the main competition. It’s a huge honour, it is one of those lifelong dreams that you have that one day my film will play in the main competition of a festival like Venice. It is a bit surreal and humbling,” he said.
“Also we are living in such strange times with such a bleak atmosphere around. It also felt like a big ray of hope for us and cinema in general. Also the fact that it is going to be the first new Indian film to be screened theatrically, is giving us some kind of hope that normalcy will return, whatever that new normalcy is," he added.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón is the Executive Producer of the film.
“I met him because of the Rolex mentorship program and you are invited to apply, you can’t even apply on your own. In my application to Alfonso, I had written that he might as well be making films on another planet. That was how far removed our prospective are. But when I observed him at his work and when I saw how his set was operating, I realised that a lot of the core issues remain the same.
"What matters is the vision, the persistence, the fortitude and a solid team to see you through those problems. It was a very inspiring, educational experience for me and it has definitely changed me as a filmmaker because I was not formally trained or I had not assisted somebody before. So for me it was in close proximity to another filmmaker- of watching somebody else’s process. Even if things are similar or different, you get to learn a lot,” Chaitanya said.
Chaitanya's first feature film Court was a National Award-winner and also India's official entry for Oscars in 2014. Despite that arranging funds for The Disciple was tough. Vivek Gomber, who produced Court, came to Chaitanya's help again.
"Appreciation is one thing and putting your money where your mouth is another. Because there is also a kind of devaluing of the process due to the language barrier or whatever reasons. People think ‘oh it’s a Marathi film so it must be costing less.’ You are seen as a Marathi filmmaker so maybe that’s another reason. But that’s not the point at all. The language just happens to be Marathi but the standards, the vision and the ambition is of international level. So, when you go around trying to raise money, people just don’t see it for what it is,” he said.
Chaitanya continued, "Also a lot of offers I got after Court was from people who had not seen the film. They had only read articles or that it had won awards, which I find very strange. So, I think it is going to be the same battle every time because your ambition and vision is also growing. And there are not enough takers here for these kinds of films.”
The Disciple is a film based on a classical musician and their journey over 30 years in Mumbai.
“I was inspired by a lot of real life musicians and their life stories, their eccentricities and complexities. But it basically started from being fascinated by the stories that surround this world - the anecdotes, the rich history, the rumors and the secrets that one gets to hear about it. That was my starting point. It is one of those fields where people genuinely achieve excellence. It is one of the biggest gifts that the Indian culture has given to the world. I did not grow up with this (classical) music and did not like it for the longest time. So, it was one of the bugs that bit me and I got obsessed around five years ago,” said Chaitanya.
While his protagonist is based in the world of classical music, it was not his goal to promote it as an art form.
“That was not a burden that I carried on my shoulders. Oftentimes I have been very fascinated about a topic after watching a film and done my research about new cultures and new worlds via films,” he concluded.