Guru-shishya: Cuaron and Tamhane

Updated: 09 August, 2020 07:40 IST | Meenakshi Shedde | Mumbai

More good news: Alfonso Cuarón will be an executive producer on The Disciple, to sell North American rights. Why am I not surprised about Cuaron backing Tamhane?

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddeIt isn't every day that you get to interview extraordinary people like five-time Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón (Roma, Gravity), that too in Berlin. But, thoda flashback first. You surely know that Chaitanya Tamhane's second feature, The Disciple, in Marathi, has been selected in the Venice Film Festival's main competition. His debut, Court, selected in Venice's Orizzonti, had won two prizes at the festival in 2014. The Disciple is the first Indian feature in about 20 years to play in the main competition at the Cannes, Berlin or Venice Film Festivals. It will also play at the Toronto Film Festival. The film follows Sharad Nerulkar, a Hindustani classical music vocalist, who must negotiate between the demands of his profession and contemporary realities of Mumbai. Ivan Ayr's Meel Patthar (Milestone) is in Venice's Orizzonti section, while Sushma Khadepaun's Anita is in Orizzonti Shorts. More good news: Alfonso Cuarón will be an executive producer on The Disciple, to sell North American rights. Why am I not surprised about Cuarón backing Tamhane?

Alfonso Cuarón and Chaitanya Tamhane were part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in 2017-18. I was invited to the Rolex Arts Weekend in Berlin in 2018, where I interviewed Cuarón and Tamhane. Cuarón was then doing Roma and Tamhane was in early stages of The Disciple. Cuarón was unpretentious, with a refreshing appreciation of younger talent. "Chaitanya is an amazing filmmaker. He's a better filmmaker than me in many ways. If you look at his first film (Court, 2014) and my first film (Sólo Con Tu Pareja, 1991), there is no question about it," Cuarón told me. Remarkably, he saw the guru-shishya parampara as a tonic two-way process, not only top-down. "Nobody had the Roma screenplay, not even the actors," Cuarón said. "But I had the screenplay translated from Spanish into English, and gave it to Chaitanya. He became a quiet mirror. He was never judgemental, he always asked questions," adding in an exquisite English turn of phrase, "In the garden of forked paths, Chaitanya was good to have around. He was my sounding board."

In the outstanding Rolex Mentor and Protégé (RMP) Arts Initiative, mentor and protégé spend time together over a year, all expenses paid. The protégés are later launched at a Rolex Arts Weekend. Previous Rolex film mentors include Martin Scorsese and Mira Nair. I've been associated with Rolex since 2012, when I was on the RMP jury that met in New York to select a protégé for mentor Walter Murch, multiple Oscar-winning editor and sound guru (Apocalypse Now, the Godfather films, The English Patient). I had then scouted for film protégé candidates from all over Asia, including India. I was also invited twice to the Rolex Arts Weekends in Venice and Berlin.
What was the most valuable lesson you learnt, I asked Tamhane. "In Mumbai, we have challenges with limited resources, infrastructure, funding and distribution models," he said. "The big revelation for me was that despite all his successes, the challenges were still the same for Cuarón. Filmmaking never gets easier. Cuarón said, 'Filmmaking is the most beautiful brutality there is. Stop stressing about the struggle and just do it.'"

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at

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First Published: 09 August, 2020 07:00 IST

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