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TIFF 2020 Review: The Disciple

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An aspiring vocalist in Indian classical music begins to question whether he really has the talent to succeed.

A series of flashbacks reveal that the desire for Sharad (Aditya Modak) to pursue a career as a vocalist in Indian classical music stems from his father; despite being devoted to his craft and guru, competitional success eludes him.  It is a lonely existence with no financial reward.  The preconceptions of his idols come into question when the aspiring artist meets a journalist with contrary information.

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As with the singing that is incorporated into the story, the slow push-ins provide a leisurely breathing room for the viewer to absorb the surroundings and the mental state of Sharad.  Slow-motion is utilized to convey a sense of meditation when the protagonist rides his motorcycle on the barren city streets listening to the teachings of a mythical vocalist known as Maai.  Slow fades in and out of black serve as means to indicate an extended passage of time.  There are no close-ups as filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane chooses to rely on wide shots so to frame Sharad with the context of his environment and the people around him. All of these elements combine to create a contemplated state which amplifies the internal conflict and avoids it becoming melodramatic.

Aditya Modak is believable as Sharad in portraying his devotion, frustration and disillusionment.  Dr. Arun Dravid is effective as Guruji with a performance that is not bombastic but has a quiet intensity which is equally authoritative.  An effective show of a mental shift for Sharad occurs when the audio from the recordings of Maai gives way to the sounds of the urban landscape while he is riding on his motorcycle.   The Disciple is a tranquil journey that at times a change in pace would be welcomed but in the end, is an intriguing character study of self-discovery.

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.

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