LFF 2020: ‘The Disciple’ Review: Striving for Perfection in Indian Classical Music

Sharad (Aditya Modak) seeks to become a classical singer like his father. But in spite of faithful practice he finds himself falling short of his own standards, and begins to fear that he shan’t be able to achieve his dream. He also struggles with his father, and his admiration for an idol of the form.

The film concerns itself with the pursuit of perfection but also presents a man at odds with the tradition in which he is trying to earn a place. Throughout the film we have serene, slow motion sequences of Sharad biking through the city as we hear his father’s idol talk about her craft and the spiritual lessons she has learned from the music. Sharad is experiencing an altogether more difficult journey. Not only is he doubting his ability but is struggling to rectify his own attitudes to the beliefs inherent in the philosophy of the music he hopes to master.

Very poignantly the film suggests that Sharad is doomed in his attempts because he too far removed from the history that shaped the music and too reluctant to look truthfully at his own life to transcend the very technical difficulties he experiences. His motives are incorrect, as he doesn’t pursue music as a method of expression or spiritual fulfilment, but rather as a method of earning approval, especially from his father. As the film goes on, he discovers that he has more in common with his father than he believes.

Director Chaitanya Tamhane presents very formal but immaculately framed images. He favours simple setups and minimal editing, encapsulating the confined spaces in which this music is typically performed and the wide landscapes of the world that exists just outside of Sharad’s practicing. It’s a slowly paced film, but one that does remarkably well at portraying time and the life that is slipping away from our main character as he works.

The film is also a humorous portrayal of the modern state of classical Indian music. Events are held in very small community spaces, and there’s a subplot regarding a breakout star appearing on The Fame India, a musical talent show. Sharad is not the only person struggling with the truth of this music, and the place it has, if any, in modern India. It’s an inciteful and seemingly very personal story of creative frustration, perfection and the perils of idolising people.

Four Stars

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