In an exciting turn of events, Chaitanya Tamhane, gifted writer-director of Court, will be mentored by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative. Court, a debut feature that sharply critiqued India’s legal torpor and caste prejudice, was India’s Oscar 2016 entry, and won top prizes at the Venice and Mumbai Film Festivals. Cuaron’s Gravity won seven Oscars, and he personally won three Oscars for Best Film, Best Director and Best Editor.
I had the honour of being Nominator on the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative when film editor and sound editor Walter Murch was the mentor, in 2012-13. He has edited the Godfather series, Apocalypse Now, The Conversation and The English Patient, and is the only artist to win a double Oscar, for film editing and sound, for The English Patient. My job was to find and recommend the best protégés from all over Asia. Initially, we looked for a young director worldwide, but later decided an editor could better take advantage of Mr Murch’s specialised guidance. Eventually, Sara Fgaier, Italian film editor of The Mouth of the Wolf, was selected. The mentor and protege spend a minimum of six weeks together — or much more — over a year, all expenses paid. The interaction is flexible, from giving access to a master at work, to actively collaborating. The protégé is given 25,000 Swiss francs (about Rs 17.25 lakh) during the mentoring year, excluding expenses, with another 25,000 Swiss francs at year-end, to help create a new work, film, publication or performance. Mentoring is offered in seven arts, including film, music, theatre and visual arts, and previous Rolex mentor-protégé pairs in film have included Mira Nair-Aditya Assarat (Thailand) and Martin Scorsese-Celina Murga (Argentina).
The Indian guru-shishya parampara has deep artistic roots, and many contemporary arts bodies offer high quality mentoring. But the Rolex programme is in another league altogether. First, they flew me to New York first class for a three-day Nominators’ meeting. It was the first time I flew first class. To sleep on a flatbed on a plane is the ultimate luxury. But it kind of ruins it for you forever, when you return to economy travel after, knowing there’s that alternative universe.
Our Nominators’ meetings went smoothly — with Michelle Satter, Founding Director, Sundance Institute Feature Film Program, Nashen Moodley, Director, Sydney Film Festival, Karel Och, Artistic Director, Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Roger Crittenden, film editor, and me. I was keen to meet the mentor, Walter Murch. I had bought his extraordinary book The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film by Michael Ondaatje (author of the novel The English Patient). I had hoped to get Mr Murch to sign my copy — dripping with pencil marks and highlighting — but that would have to wait till Venice.
At year-end, Rolex invited us for a Rolex Arts Weekend in Venice, to get a glimpse of what the proteges had created during the year. We stayed in an elegant hotel directly overlooking St Mark’s Square and the gondolas on the Grand Canal. We watched the protégé’s creations at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and later at the La Fenice opera house. The weekend went by in a mesmeric swirl, as the invitees included filmmakers Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Carlos Saura and Mira Nair, actress Charlotte Rampling, writers Margaret Atwood and Ben Okri, visual artists Cindy Sherman and William Kentridge, musicians Gustavo Santaolalla and Gilberto Gil, editor Walter Murch, architect Daniel Libeskind, choreographer Lin Hwai-min and cultural theorist Homi K. Bhabha. Awed and humbled, I reflected, as I returned by vaporetto: if that’s what a weekend could do to me, imagine what a whole year could do for Tamhane. Salute!
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com.