Meenakshi Shedde: Conversations with Alfonso Cuaron

Feb 11, 2018, 06:59 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

"I was very impressed by his film. For a first-time filmmaker, to have such stillness and absolute control of the craft… I envy him... I took a while to get to that point."

Alfonso Cuarón (left) mentoring Chaitanya Tamhane (centre) during the shoot of Cuaron's new film, Roma. Pic © Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos
Alfonso Cuarón (left) mentoring Chaitanya Tamhane (centre) during the shoot of Cuaron's new film, Roma. Pic © Chien-Chi Chang/Magnum Photos

"I was very impressed by his film. For a first-time filmmaker, to have such stillness and absolute control of the craft… I envy him... I took a while to get to that point." That was Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron, whose Gravity won seven Oscars, commenting on Chaitanya Tamhane's debut feature film Court. Court, which had sharply critiqued India's legal paralysis and caste prejudice, was India's Oscar 2016 entry, and won top prizes at the Venice and Mumbai Film Festivals. That is high praise for Tamhane's work indeed.'

These conversations were part of the Rolex Arts Weekend that I was invited to attend in Berlin last week. The Rolex Mentor and Protege (RMP) Arts Initiative is a superb guru-shishya programme in the arts - film, music, visual arts, architecture, literature, theatre and dance - in which mentor and protege spend time together over a year, all expenses paid by Rolex.

This year, in film, Cuarón was mentor to Tamhane, who spent time in Mexico on the sets of Cuarón's new film, Roma. At the end of the mentoring year, the proteges' new work was presented at the Rolex Arts Weekend, with public events on February 3 and 4 at some of Berlin's most prestigious cultural institutions. These included the Deutsches Theater, Gemäldegalerie, Staatsbibliothek and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden, the Berlin State Opera.

It was a privilege to chat with the artistic creme de la creme, including filmmaker Cuarón, music composer and mentor Philip Glass, who is keen to bring his opera Satyagraha to India; Oscar-winning film editor and sound editor, and former Rolex mentor Walter Murch, who regaled us with anecdotes about Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now.
Artists from India and of Indian origin have been closely associated with the Rolex programme since it started in 2002. Mira Nair was the first film mentor to Thai director Aditya Assarat. Sir Anish Kapoor mentored South African artist Nicholas Hlobo in 2010-2011. Tamhane was Cuarón's protege in 2016-2017. Maestro Zakir Hussain will mentor American musician Marcus Gilmore in the next cycle. Music composer AR Rahman and author Pico Iyer are both advisors to the RMP programme. Homi K Bhabha, Anne F Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities at Harvard University, moderated a lively panel and discussed how many world leaders spoke about global cosmopolitanism overseas, while practising "barbaric nationalism" at home.

I have also been associated with RMP since 2012, when I was invited as Nominator to nominate proteges when Walter Murch was mentor (editor of The Godfather film series, and Apocalypse Now, he won, exceptionally, a double Oscar, for film editing and sound, for The English Patient).

The mentor and protégé spend six weeks together - or much more - over a year. The protégé is given 25,000 Swiss francs (about Rs 17 lakh) during the mentoring year, with another 25,000 Swiss francs at year-end, to help create a new work. "Time is a commodity we at Rolex cherish, and through time spent together in such a collaborative relationship, both mentor and protégé are invigorated in their art," said Rebecca Irvin, Head of Philanthropy at Rolex. What could be a greater gift for Tamhane, just 30, as he embarks on his new film with a quiet confidence, knowing that Cuarón is watching his back?

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com.

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