Chaitanya Tamhane: Watching The Disciple on the big screen in Venice was a surreal experience

It’s been a few days since filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane returned from Venice and the jet lag is yet to wear off. “I am just getting some rest for now,” says Chaitanya, who had been to the beautiful Italian city to attend the screening of his second feature film – ‘The Disciple’ – at the Venice Film Festival.

The Marathi feature film is in the running for the Golden Lion at the fest, the first Indian film to do so in the last two decades after Mira Nair’s ‘Monsoon Wedding’ (2001).

Speaking to us about his experience of attending the screening, which happened on September 4, Chaitanya said, “It was a surreal feeling to just be there. Actually, we were not even sure if we would be able to fly to Venice because international flights haven’t resumed normal operations. We had bought our clothes and were prepared, but it was a very last minute thing.” So how did they make it happen? “Well, we had sought permission from the foreign ministry and the Indian embassy.

Luckily, things fell into place and we managed to attend the screening,” adds the ‘Court’ filmmaker.

Though Chaitanya has been at the festival twice before, once for the screening of ‘Court’ and then as a jury member, this visit was entirely different compared to the previous ones. He shares, “This was not a virtual event. People were physically present and our film was screened in a cinema hall on the big screen. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t have been such a big deal, but given the current scenario, a big screen world premiere was exhilarating.”

Chaitanya, who is in compulsory home-quarantine after returning to Mumbai, says that the entire process of going to Venice, partaking in the festival and returning was something none of them had experienced before. “We got COVID tests done before leaving India. Another a swab test was done when we reached Italy. Social distancing and strict hygiene protocols were followed at the festival, and once we returned, we are now adhering to the 14-day home quarantine. Even the cinema hall where ‘The Disciple’ was screened was only half-full as per the new norms,” he says. At the fest, the team, which also included producer Vivek Gomber and lead actor Aditya Modak, was allowed to lower their masks only during the photo-call.

Despite the representation on a global stage and raving reviews that the film received after its premiere, there was hardly any buzz around it back home. Did that bother Chaitanya though? “The Disciple not getting any press coverage in India is the least of my concerns. We got enough coverage in the international media, in fact, beyond our expectations, and we are happy with that. Frankly, there are many other issues that the Indian media should be focusing on and it isn’t. So, I am not complaining at all,” he says.

With the world premiere done, the team of the film, which has ‘Gravity’ and ‘Roma’ director Alfonso Cuaron as its executive producer, is bound to be looking at showing the film to the Indian audience. Chaitanya agrees and shares, “We can’t wait to show it to the Indian audience because it’s a film set in India, with Indian cultural contexts and Indian classical music at it’s core.” And will they stick to a theatrical release? “We would love to do that. But we are in no hurry. Right now, everyone’s focus should be on flattening the COVID curve. When it’s safe, people can and will venture out to catch a movie. Till then, it’s all about waiting and watching,” he concludes.