By Anya Daftary
I recently watched the Disciple, a Marathi movie on Netflix. The film was written and directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, and is only his 2nd film yet. The story follows that of Sharad Nerulkar, a student of Hindustani music. Set amongst the backdrop of Mumbai in the 2000s, the film depicts the eternal struggle and quest for a classical artist to find their worth. The process of the art is intrinsically woven into the fibres of a kalakar’s (artist) daily life, and their overall world.
The film depicts a musician’s journey of age-old traditions in today’s dramatically different cultural climate. It depicts the tradition that somewhat survives like gurusisya parampara, attempts at riyaaz and devoting oneself wholly to music. While outlining Sharad’s story on its own, Tamhane showcases the changes and the adaptation of music through secretly recorded tapes of Maa an older musician with much gyaan to baato, a now-gone but seemingly influential musician — specifically on Sharad. Her recordings divulge into the art form, the focus, the discipline, the subtleties, the relevance of an audience and how beyond everything, this art form can only be understood by having a deep desire to understand it and only it.
But, that still isn’t enough. While making reference to the purification that music underwent in a post-colonial rule. The part that resonated with me most was how today, for an artist, it is impossible to live and learn music, to unreservedly be submerged within the art form, the tradition and the internal struggle. As a student of the same, the ocean of knowledge is so extensive, deep and wide, that it seems futile to even attempt to set sail. Namita Devidayal, the author of Music Room and Vilayat Khan: The Sixth String, once in an article describes her own journey within the Jaipur Gharana, how after going all the way to Princeton, she returned to continue her music. However, after a year, she stopped. To practice the arts, one must become the arts. I once read a saying, I can’t quite remember who said it — something along the lines of — “If I can sing one sa correctly, my life and my journey in music would be complete. The strive for that one note, the one perfect shadaja, is all a musician can ask for. But, the changing cultural climate wrapped into the state of the economy forces artists to adapt and lead a drastically different life in a different dimension without one way or another, eternally stuck in the quest and the world.
The arts have saved me, but I wonder if they will even survive long enough to save someone else.