Biennale 2020 or Venezia 77 has been the first major film festival to take place in real life since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also happens to be the world’s oldest film festival. And the festival managed to run successfully from September 2 to 12 with social and physical distancing protocol in place. But the best news that came from it for the cinephiles of India is the double win scored by Chaitanya Tamhane and his crew for his second feature film, The Disciple.
The Disciple has won both the FIPRESCI Award, given by a jury from the International Federation of Film Critics that aims to promote and develop film culture as well as safeguard professional interests and the Best Screenplay Award, selected by the Jury for the Official Competition, presided by 2-time Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett. The last Indian film to get the FIPRESCI Award at the Venice Film Festival was Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mathilukal (Walls) in 1990.
The Disciple is a 2020 Marathi drama film set in the world of Hindustani classical music in Mumbai. It follows Sharad Nerulkar, who has devoted himself to becoming an Indian classical vocalist. Initiated into this centuries-old tradition by his father, he follows his dream with sincerity and discipline, committing himself entirely to his artistic journey. But as the years pass, Sharad is forced to negotiate between the complex realities of life in Mumbai and his chosen path.
Starring Aditya Modak as Sharad, the main cast includes Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave, and Kiran Yadnyopavit. The Disciple is written, edited and directed by Tamhane and produced by Vivek Gomber via Zoo Entertainment. The main crew credits include music design by Tabla maestro Aneesh Pradhan, cinematography by Michał Sobociński, production design by Ravin Karde, Pooja Talreja, and sound design by Naren Chandavarkar.
While the main cast and crew including Tamhane and producer Vivek Gomber attended the premiere in person, Tamhane was already back in India by the time of the final award ceremony held on 12 September 2020, where the Best Screenplay Award was announced. He accepted virtually, also thanking his producer, Vivek Gomber, who was also the producer and lead protagonist of Tamhane’s first and brilliant film, Court, 2014. While The Disciple was also in competition for the main award, The Golden Lion was bagged by Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland starring Frances McDormand.
Tamhane’s directorial debut, Court had also premiered at Venice Film Festival, in 2014, where it won the Best Film in the Orrizonti (Horizons) section and the Luigi De Laurentiis (Lion of the Future) Award for Tamhane. The Disciple is his next film, for which he took four years to complete, spending about half the time on research and was mentored by the Mexican director and Academy Award winner Alfonso Cuaron, who is also the film’s executive producer. Tamhane met Alfonso Cuaron during the 2016-2017 edition of the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative. Tamhane hung around the sets of Roma, while Cuaron guided him through The Disciple.
The Marathi language film The Disciple is the first Indian movie in nearly two decades to have been selected in the main competition at the film festival. One could say, it’s an honour just to be nominated! The last Indian film to compete at Venice was Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, which won the Golden Lion in 2001.
The film is set for a busy festival season ahead, with premieres line up at Toronto Film Festival, Busan Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival and New York Film Festival, all in September and October. And with all the rave reviews it’s already got, they might not need it but we wish Chaitanya Tamhane and all cast and crew the best!