Sunday, September 27, 2020

Life's Little Disappointments

 The Disciple (2020) - Tamhane

Chaitanya Tamhane's follow up to his great debut, Court, is The Disciple, about an artist struggling with a life long self-doubt. It might be a more personal subject, but it's even more nuanced observation of life than his previous film. The Disciple shows Tamhane is wise far beyond his age portraying subjects such as ambition, devotion and pride as well as realizing life's crushing disappointments as we age.

Khayal, I am told, is a classical Indian singing style that puts emphasis on improvisation and micro-tonal changes. For devotees of this art, mastering it is an eternal quest. Young Sharad (Aditya Modak), practicing this Hindustani classical music is a vocation he was sort of born into - his father was a devotee of this music tradition even though he ultimately failed as a singer. Studying under his guru/mentor (Arun Dravid) and listening to lectures, given by legendary, reclusive singer Maai, who was guru to both his father (who secretly recorded her lectures) and his mentor. Maai was almost a yogi figure, preaching purity and discipline in body and mind to truly devote to the music. She never allowed recordings of her music nor had her images taped or photographed. Tamhane provides some great night tracking shot of Mumbai, of Sharad riding his motorbike in slow motion, listening to Maai's lectures on tape. Emphasizing the lonely road the young man has chosen. The year is 2006.

Sharad practices and practices while dealing with all the distractions of life - constant nagging of his grandmother, pressure to get a job, loneliness, lust, etc. He is not winning any awards at singing competitions, at least not yet.

Sharad now is a fat middle aged man with a mustache, still trying to get his music career off the ground. He teaches music at a school, still takes care of his now ailing guru, while seeing others, more talented than him passing him by, career-wise. One of his pupil's mother comes to the school asking him for his advice: should her son join a fusion band in his college? He tells them not to come back to school if the young man joins the band. Some TV singing competition shows a young woman's transformation from a homely classical singer to a Bollywood style pop sensation. Is purity of the music and personal pride that important? Even Maai's words get warped in his mind. She directly addresses to him that his guru loves him so he doesn't have hearts to tell him that he is not talented, just like his father.

In one flashback scene, meeting with a rare music collector who seems to have dirt on everybody crushes Sharad's idols, including his guru and even Maai, whom he recalls as a self-righteous, pretentious fraud.

The Disciple deals with any artist's nightmare - total devotion is hard to achieve while living in the real world. In the mean time, self-doubt eats you away slowly over the years. Modak gives a beautiful, heart breaking performance, transforming himself from a bright eyed young man to a defeated middle-aged schlub . Both Modak and Dravid are actual singers and the music in this film is truly glorious. Tamhane again, proves himself to be one of the brightest and most talented filmmakers working today.