Chaitanya Tamhane's The Disciple is streaming on Netflix.
Director Chaitanya Tamhane has already established himself a visionary with his 2015 film Court. Extending the influence of music in Court, Tamhane’s The Disciple proves to be a beautiful melody. The plot follows a dedicated student of Hindustani classical music, Sharad Nerulkar (played by real-life classical singer Aditya Modak) who is struggling to achieve excellency.
The film is an exploration of the art-form and a deep dive into Sharad’s psyche. He strives for perfection, is a diligent student to his Guruji and attempts to stay true to the principles of the art. Even on his most tumultuous days, Sharad resonates the calm of his ragas - he is tranquil in success and failure. He sees a lot of the latter throughout his life as he grapples with life moving forward, modernisation taking over and circumstances changing, all while his identity as a musician remains dormant.
The first few minutes of the film set the stage for what is to come - Sharad tirelessly practises, neglects his family, picks out a new outfit all to perform a Raag Bageshri bandish at a competition. He fails to secure a prize and as the camera pans towards him, his demeanour is deadpan. He keeps his true disappointments under wraps, may it be when he fails to achieve satisfaction in his art or when his Guruji publicly reprimands him for his skills. Tamhane’s quality of amplifying the sense of loneliness that Sharad feels in serene wide shots gives The Disciple an element of brilliance.
Sharad’s real struggle begins when the audience discovers that he is trying to undo his father’s failed legacy as a musician. His father and his Guruji were under the tutelage of the legendary Maai - Vidushi Sindhubai Jadhav - who is only heard in recordings. Maai, despising popularity and believing that true excellence in classical music is only achieved when the pupil devotes himself to the teacher, venerates him and celebrates him as a God, also preaches spirituality, cutting worldly ties, and focusing on elevating the technical aspects of one’s performance. Sharad listens to Maai’s pronouncements that his father recorded on tape and aims to follow her footsteps.
The beauty of The Disciple is that it is muted but that does not prevent it from conveying every emotion that Sharad feels. He is disconnected from reality, devoid of real human relationships and obsessed in his journey to sacrifice everything in order to perfect his art. But when he is seething after a reviewer tears Maai down, though his anger is internal, the audience can feel his rage and disbelief without the character saying anything.
Tamhane’s refined sense of filmmaking is combined with an actor who impeccably brings Sharad to life in The Disciple. Do not hesitate to stream this film on Netflix, for even the most restrained nuances on screen will make an impact on you and that is the extent of the grace and delicacy of The Disciple.