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Observing Alfonso Cuarón at work helped me in making The Disciple, says Chaitanya Tamhane

The Court (2015) director went through a mentorship programme with the Mexican filmmaker during the making of Roma (2018).

Keyur Seta

For filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane, making his debut film Court (2015) was quite a challenging task. It included auditioning actors for as many as 10 months before zeroing in on Veera Sathidar to play the lead.

But the efforts paid rich dividends as Court was adjudged Best Film at the 61st National awards in 2014 and became India’s official entry for the Oscars.

That was not all. Court gave Tamhane the opportunity, through a mentorship programme, to observe iconic Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón from close quarters as he worked on his Oscar-nominated Roma (2018).

Chaitanya Tamhane's next film, The Disciple, is ready and will be premiered at next month's Venice International Film Festival, where it will be screened in the main Competition section.

The director said his stint with Cuarón helped him shape the film. “The conversations I have had with him helped me with the new film I have made," Tamhane told Cinestaan.com. "So it has been an incredible experience. It has sort of changed me as a filmmaker. I got to learn so much. It was a privilege that money cannot buy. I was very lucky to get that opportunity. It was definitely a lot more than I expected.”

Starring Yalitza Aparicio and Marina de Tavira, Roma tells the story of a maid in a middle-class household in Mexico City in the 1970s. Cuarón has joined Tamhane's film as executive producer.

Elaborating on Cuarón’s influence in The Disciple, Tamhane said, “Of course there is no direct influence in terms of filmmaking style. But there are things I have become a lot more sensitized to. I also saw the level of attention to detail he had. I learnt a lot from him. I think it is assimilated and it is kind of there in the film.”

Asked about the overall experience of working with the master filmmaker, Tamhane said, “It was incredible! Now the world has seen Roma. Back then it was like a secret that I was keeping with myself. It was incredible to see a master at work. It’s very different to watch a film and read about it as opposed to actually being there on set.”

A still from The Disciple

Cuarón had said in an interview that he did not give the script to any of the artistes while shooting Roma. Tamhane confirmed, “Nobody had a script. I was the only one who had read the script which I had to keep a secret. It was a huge responsibility and also a privilege. I don’t know the exact reason [for this], but he just wanted to do it that way.”

He added that off the sets Cuarón is a cool customer. “He is super chilled and super funny," the young filmmaker said. "It was great. It is still great. We are very much in touch. He is super passionate about films.”

The young filmmaker is glad that he witnessed the entire process of the making of Roma. “It was crazy because I was [present] on the shoot. I was also there for the mixing and grading of the film. I have seen him edit the film. So I have been a part of most of the processes in a way. It might not be for long periods but it was a considerable amount of time,” he said.

Despite having witnessed the entire process, Tamhane said that when he saw the completed film on the big screen, it was a different experience: “When I saw the final film in the theatre on the big screen, it was a very different experience. I realized how all the details, hard work and decisions, big and small, had come together in a way that was quite unexpected for me.”

Correction, 6 August 2020: An earlier version of the report said Chaitanya Tamhane had assisted Alfonso Cuarón in the making of Roma. Tamhane was mentored by Cuarón under the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.