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The Disciple (2020) Film Review

Updated: May 16, 2021


Directed by: #ChaitanyaTamhane

Written by: #ChaitanyaTamhane


Sharad Nerulkar (Aditya Modak) has devoted his life to becoming an Indian classical music vocalist, but as years go by, his dedication and struggle to achieve great success in his passion cripple him with self-doubt as he aspires for unattainable excellence.

The Disciple (2020) is a Marathi language drama helmed by award winning Indian filmmaker, Chaitanya Tamhane, who has received much praise towards his most acclaimed drama Court (2014). His most recent film has its premiere at the 2020 Venice Film Festival in September and won Best Screenplay for the Tamhane award, among several other wins. Netflix acquired the distribution rights and it was released through the streaming platform on 30th April 2021.

This slow burner is deliberately methodical in its delicate, precise direction, exhibiting smooth cinematography with wide establishing shots and long takes. A reoccurring sequence presents Sharad driving his motorbike through the mostly deserted streets of his hometown in Mumbai through slow motion photography; the familiar mesmerizing soundtrack of classical Indian music filling the senses.

The protagonist, Indian classical music vocalist, observes his guru closely
The Disciple (2020) film poster

The multi-faceted screenplay delivers on a compelling character study of a man encountering many obstacles in his artistic struggles to pursue perfection in his craft, as well as observing the industrialisation and commercialisation of music in the early twenty first century in an enticing fashion. There is a universal quality to the film, as anyone who has a dedication to their passion will immediately be able to relate to the protagonist’s journey of self discovery and acceptance; the film has a remarkable transcendent quality to its narrative.

Anita Kushawaha and Naren Chandavarkar’s engrossing sound design envelops the ears with traditional classical music from Indian culture and creates a soothing, atmospheric tone to the film which allows us to enter Sharad’s inner circle and experience his story with him. The intoxicating soundtrack is orchestrated to represent his dedication and unhealthy obsession with his passion as a vocalist, demonstrating both the highs and lows of his pursuits throughout his life.

Before the release of The Disciple, Aditya Modak did not have any other acting credits and he has already won the 2021 Best Actor ICS for his role in this film. He gives a melancholic, muted performance which fits perfectly within the slow, reflective pacing of the movie.

Although absorbing in nature with its provocative and realistic themes, the film does often cripple under its ambitious weight with some arguably self-indulgent scenes added in the final cut which perhaps could be criticised as being overly long. One example of this is when we are subjected to two or three scenes of the protagonist masturbating to porn in his bedroom and it is unclear why there needed to be more coverage of this private, personal action. The slow pacing can unfortunately be a big turn off at several points in the film, where each sequence is filmed in a long take and the naturalistic panning out of everyday events can sometimes hinder the overall high quality of the film.

Nevertheless, The Disciple is a very well made and stirring drama with a strong screenplay, transcendent message and a mesmerizing sound design, resulting in a satisfying and rewarding viewing experience.


The Disciple (2020) Trailer:


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