The Disciple

The Disciple ★★★★

Like everyone else - including, apparently, most Indians - I know nothing of Indian classical music, but the goal seems to be for the singer to merge their whole being (and voice) into a performance of spiritual serenity; body language is important - and it's clear from our hero's body language that he lacks that inner peace, having "a restless mind" as someone puts it. One of Tamhane's insights is that restlessness is distinct from creative restlessness (Sharad's childhood marked by the famous guru whose singing is sometimes great and sometimes unbearable, Bob Dylan-style; "It's 50-50 because he's a genius"), indeed the two are often antithetical; another is that mediocrity is never so simple - and in fact may not even exist, Sharad's ultimate failure (if it is a failure) being a complex stew of his limiting factors and particular psychology as opposed to any preordained lack of talent. Maybe he's too self-absorbed (his only sex life seems to be masturbation), maybe too rushed and restless, maybe too obsessed with not becoming like his father - the structure recalls last year's Martin Eden and Sharad, like Martin, is an up-and-comer driven by aggressive want packaged (to himself) as idealism - but music is a fluid, slippery thing, and his 'failure' could equally have been that of the singer whose CDs are appreciated only by the cognoscenti (he had the same guru as another, more famous singer, Sharad tells a customer desperately), or the young girl whose lovely voice is repackaged as pop by a TV talent show, or indeed the busker whose light, artless song makes for a bittersweet final scene. The plotting is a bit on-the-nose compared to Court (blame executive producer Alfonso Cuaron, maybe?) but Tamhane's instincts are still for the open-ended over the explicit, his extreme-wide-angle shots carrying a touch of the elegiac just by imposing a Preminger-like distance; trains change, people change, formats change - VHS to DVD to USB - but the nature of Art remains elusive, great artists are exposed as horrible people and being a true, informed lover of classical music (like his father before him) doesn't magically make our hero more gifted. Maybe that explains the gulf between filmmakers and film critics too.

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