Chaitanya Tamhane: Alfonso Cuaron is a fatherly figure in my life

Academy Award winner  Alfonso Cuaron is the executive producer of Chaitanya Tamhane's upcoming film The Disciple 
Chaitanya Tamhane: Alfonso Cuaron is a fatherly figure in my life

For Chaitanya Tamhane, Oscar-winning filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron is like a friend and a fatherly figure, who has influenced his work in a big way.

Tamhane won wide acclaim at home as well as in the international festival circuit with his debut directorial effort, the Marathi film Court (2014). Cuaron took to mentoring filmmaker Tamhane shortly after that, and has now executive-produced the new-age Indian director's new film, The Disciple.

"I'm very respectful of the relationship I have with Alfonso. He has been very supportive right from the beginning. He knew about The Disciple from its genesis, from the time it was just an idea in my head. When he read the script, he helped me find certain crew members, saw the rough cut and gave his notes and saw the finished film," Tamhane told IANS.

"For me, it was almost unimaginable to think that he would formally associate with the film, and that is something I would never even ask him because he has a reputation. He has a name to protect and maintain. His body of work is absolutely world class and incredible. So, I never even thought of it," said Tamhane.

Recalling how his association with Cuaron came to be, he said: "It came up very organically. I was nervous to broach that subject, but he brought it up himself. He was so generous, and said, ‘it would be an honour to be associated with the film'. And of course, it was a very big honour and a massive privilege for me to hear that from him."

Tamhane's debut film Court caught attention with his unique filmmaking style and won over 30 awards at film festivals worldwide, including Best Film in the Horizons section at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. Tamhane was awarded the "Lion Of The Future" at the prestigious film fest.

Asked if Cuaron has influenced his work, Tamhane said: "There are two or three things. One is on a technical level, a craft level and one on a filmmaking level. He is at such a different level, with so many more resources and experience. Just watching him at work on the sets of Roma and during post production, taught me a lot. It expanded my vocabulary as a filmmaker. All the conversations we had, not just about cinema, but about world, life and about navigating your career as a filmmaker - that teaches you a lot. He of taught me how to be a professional filmmaker."

He added that no one can actually influence how one looks at the world, they influence one's craft: "The language part of it, how to achieve your vision, you can get inspired by somebody like Cuaron. He has taught me to be fearless. He has taught me to have a vision and he has taught me to ask for more, and never settle for less. So on that kind of a spiritual level, I have learnt a lot from him."

Tamhane laughs when you ask him if it is okay to call him Cuaron's disciple. "He has been very clear since the beginning that this is a dialogue between two artistes. I definitely consider him one of my mentors. We are like friends. He is a fatherly figure in my life and a big teacher, and a big influence. But he always calls me a friend or collaborator. He keeps insisting that this is a two-way process," he said about his bond with Cuaron, who mentored Tamhane through the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative.

At the moment, Tamhane is focused on The Disciple, which is set in contemporary Mumbai and follows an Indian classical music vocalist who, after years of diligent training and tradition, begins to wonder whether it is really possible to achieve the excellence he is striving for.

The Disciple will debut in the official competition at the 77th Venice International Film Festival. This is the first Indian film to make the cut since Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding in 2001, which had won Golden Lion, the highest prize at the festival. It will also be part of the 58th edition of the New York Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival.

Asked if he is disappointed that he won't be able to attend the film festival amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the director said it was a "mixed feeling".

"On one level, it's really disappointing, not so much about us not being present but about people not watching the film in the theatre. We made this film for the big screen. There is a pact that you make when you enter the room and the lights go out, and you immerse yourself in that dreamlike experience. It cannot be replicated. That, for me, is a bigger disappointment, more than not being present at the screenings," Tamhane replied.

He added: "At the same time. I do consider us very lucky that the film is having such a fantastic start. It's been such a bleak atmosphere. People are going through real problems, facing real tragedies. In that sense, it also definitely feels like we are very blessed and privileged to have this attention, acceptance and validation from these festivals."

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