Chaitanya Tamhane on historic double win of his film The Disciple at 77th Venice International Film Festival: You can never get used to such acclaimby Roshmila Bhattacharya
Chaitanya Tamhane opens up about his historic double win at the 77th Venice Intl Film Fest & reminisces about his directorial debut, Court
In 2014, his directorial debut, Court, was adjudged Best Film (Horizons) at the Venice Film Festival. He had also bagged the Lion of the Future Award. Six years later, The Disciple was honoured with the prestigious International Critics’ Prize, awarded by Federation Internationale de la Presse Cinematographique (FIPRESCA) jury. A day later, Chaitanya Tamhane also won the Best Screenplay Award for his Marathi feature film at the closing ceremony of the Venice Fest that was live-streamed globally. And that prompts the first question to the 33-year-old director who has done India proud…
How different were your reactions to the dual honours, given that six years later, you are no stranger to acclaim?
It was a big moment for us because even if your previous film has won some awards, every film is a new battle. So, there was a lot of curiosity and suspense over how The Disciple would be received, and it was nice to know that the FIPRESCA jury thought it was the best film for them in the competition. Also, to win the Best Screenplay Award given by the official jury with such stalwarts in the mix made it very special given that this time it was the main competition. You can never get used to such acclaim.
The last Indian to win the FIPRESCA in Venice was Adoor Gopalakrishnan for Mathilukal 20 years ago...
Yes, we are honoured and humbled because my generation is standing on the shoulders of such giants as Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Satyajit Ray, and so many Indian filmmakers who have had a great history with Venice.
And what was it like being a part of a festival during a pandemic?
Well, we were curious to see how a festival would be organised this year and were pleasantly surprised to see the energy and vibe were intact despite the safety protocols. It was heartening to see cinema lovers watch films together, even though everyone was wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Has the lockdown brought about any changes in you as a person and a filmmaker?
The lockdown has made everybody pause and reflect. It’s the most apt time to watch a film like The Disciple. It will definitely have a direct or an indirect impact on not just me but what everyone does in the world.
Your mentor and executive producer, Alfonso Cuaron, won the Best Screenplay Award for Y Tu Mamá También in 2001. Would you say you are a disciple too?
Alfonso is very chilled out and modern in his mindset. So, the equation between us is like a dialogue between two artistes. He generously calls me his friend and collaborator. For me, he will always be one of my mentors who helped me grow as a filmmaker and expand my vocabulary. I hope to retain the values and lessons learnt from him in the last five years and will continue to be a good student in that sense.
You’ve said that The Disciple is influenced by the play, The Grey Elephants in Denmark, that you wrote in 2008. Any plans to revisit it on stage?
It’s a spiritual successor, a grownup adaption. The setting and mediums are very different but the core conflict and theme comes from there. Vivek Gomber, my producer, was the lead actor of the play. But now, I am done with that story. I will tell others.
How difficult was it for you to enter the closed world of Hindustani classical music? Will The Disciple revive interest in a dying art?
I see it as a dynamic, thriving art form and sub-culture, with many affordable concerts, music schools and brilliant artistes. Maybe it’s not as dominant in the mainstream as it was in the 19th century, but there’s still an audience that appreciates this music. And online platforms give you unlimited access to all music recorded, officially and unofficially. With all the material available, I was like a kid in a candy store, I just had to decide what to retain and what to let go. The intention wasn’t to revive it, but if that happens, great.
Venice, Toronto, New York, three big festivals are showcasing your film…
Yes, we couldn’t have asked for a better Fall festival launch. We feel incredibly grateful that in such an uncertain year, we could put our film out there for people to watch. The idea is to take it to a wider audience now.
With theatres in India still shut, what is the plan?
We will definitely bring it to India, be it a theatrical or an online release. We are talking to different players but nobody has an answer yet.
Court was India’s official entry for the Academy Awards. If The Disciple is picked, are you confident of bringing the Oscar home this time?
So far, we were only focused on the world premiere in Venice. If we do get picked, it would be a massive honour and we will do our best not just to promote our film, but represent Indian cinema on a global stage.
Looking back, what do you recall about Court, and what will you remember The Disciple by?
I remember Vivek and my naivety, the innocent energy with which we got a crew together, convinced them to believe in our vision and with no film background or reference, just made Court. We were lucky that it turned out well, and proud that it was accepted. The Disciple is more ambitious in its scope, scale and budget. And I will always remember the time, patience, sweat and blood that has gone into its making. A two-year writing process, one year of prep and shoot and then, one more year on the post production.
You had mentioned that you were working on another subject when you were hooked by The Disciple. Will that be your next?
That was back in 2015-2016, when one was in a certain frame of mind. That project has been abandoned and I’m curious to know what I will give so many years of my life to next. It will be something new and totally different. But yes, maybe some ideas from that project will return in some form in a future one.
Both Court and The Disciple are about singers…
That’s a coincidence. In Court, the singer was just a catalyst, a springboard for us to get into the lives of people who are a part of some institutions. The Disciple is really about a singer, his inner struggle and survival, his artistic journey in the city of Mumbai.
So, are you a singer yourself now?
(Laughs) No, I’m not a singer, I’ve never even learnt music.