The Disciple review: A delicately woven offering

Disciple Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Disciple Cast: Aditya Modak, Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave
Pupil Rating: 4 stars

A student who is perfect. A teacher who is ill, and is struggling to become an ideal guru. Shishya does not shy away from massaging the legs of the master, or getting them fair with the doctor, paying fees and running such other works. But the disciple has to struggle to get the right sound, and all his service does not save him from the intense rebuke of his teacher, ‘No, you are not listening’ in the midst of a performance. We are deeply known for the nuances, tradition and culture of Indian classical music by Chaitanya Tamhane with his latest offering The Discipline. Produced by filmmaker Alfonso Curon, The Discipal is a two-hour-eight-minute Marathi feature directed and written by Tamhane, who shares with us the story of a 24-year-old Indian classical singer, Sharad Nerulkar, who Want to make a mark On the world of classical music. His day job is to convert old VHS tapes and recordings into CDs. Nerulkar’s guru Pandit Vinayak Pradhan – played by Arun Dravid – a disciple of the late Kishori Amonkar – is a teacher whose penchant for life is saved only by the largesse of some of his students.

Nerulkar’s guru and his late father ‘Mai’ have their third appearance between the pair of guru and disciple. We have never seen Mai, not even a photo. We only listen to him – voiced by the late filmmaker Sumitra Bhave – Nerulkar rode his motorcycle late at night on a JJ flyover in Mumbai. His disgruntled voice lingers on the film’s narrative like a spectator. He listens to his lectures as he distributes the principles of classical music. “Saints and ascetics have received this music after thousands of years of spiritual discovery. It cannot be learned so easily, even 10 lifetimes is not enough, ”intensifies Mai’s voice in Nerulkar’s headphones. Nerulkar, who grew up in a ‘musical’ household, as we learn later in the film, introduced Harmonium and Riaz. He also went to the cities with his father to attend ‘Morning Concert’. His father’s friends are happy to quiz him about various morning ragas in exchange for the promise of a chocolate bar. All grown up, Nerulkar still looks at the world of Indian classical music with rose-colored glasses and holds to the principles of purity of form and tradition as he makes his way. But we never see his frenzied, righteous idealism with the harsh Riyaz suggested by his teacher.

Spanning twelve years, we see changes in Nerulkar, and by proxy, those changes have changed our way in the world of music. His old 2G phone has been replaced by a smart one, and his young boy is now looking at a middle-aged man, stuffed with a wide waist and mustache. His guru’s health is rapidly failing, and Nerulkar now teaches music in a school. One feels his struggle in waves, as we see him through social media to network, and in an attempt to ‘market himself’. He examines his former fellow student Sneha, who is now touring in the US.

Also read Chaitanya Tamhane: The film faced a lot of rejection, with only Alfonso Quaron and Vivek Gomber believing it

The world of Indian classical music often remains elusive for the general public. The elusive one adds to the mystery that surrounds it. If you want to experience elusive first hand, attend any such gathering at IIC in Delhi or NCPA in Mumbai. One must be part of a very selected milieu, and a certain class should be allowed in those corridors. The kurta needs to be a certain type of crisp, and women’s sarees with silk or hand-made cotton, no chiffon. That said, Elusive does not really guarantee financial or any other success. The current epidemic, if nothing else, has shown the hopeless way we, as a society, have not taken care of our classical artists. Earlier this week, India lost Pandit Rajan Mishra of the famous Rajan-Sajan Mishra pair, due to complications related to Kovid.

As the court did, the disciples cast their truth upon you. But he is your signature. The film is a delicately woven macrame offering, made knot-by-knot, scene-by-scene. There is nothing, not out of a note. We see the struggle within Nerulkar as his sense of holiness and romanticism as music is at loggerheads with a constant reputation and desire for the trauma that comes with it. Tamane has nonetheless crossed himself with the casting of non-actors. We are still mourning the loss of real-life folk artist Veera Shatidar, who died recently in the courtroom. Aditya Modak and Arun Dravid are real-life classical Indian music artists, and are a perfect fit for Tamhane’s narrative. The disciples remind us of how often we idolize as a society and some things and some people and in that process, how we successfully distance ourselves from the cracks that are now with them. See the pupil, and maybe next time you don’t skimp on those classical music concert tickets and avoid asking for a pass from some organizers. They can only cost you as much coffee from their favorite coffee shop.

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