I met Sumitra Bhave at Dr. Kashinath Ghanekar Auditorium in Thane at the behest of Dr. Mohan Agashe. It was the screening of her film 'Astu', a film that lacks the Bhave touch we have learnt to take for granted. (More about it here: Elephant in the room)
Post the screening, we had a great time recounting the magic of her epic 'Vastupurush'. She seemed weary from age, but her enthusiasm, like most of her films, knew no bounds. Her creative partner Sunil Sukhtankar was discernibly guarded - typical of this tribe - but she seemed free of any baggage, as also claims of being a master filmmaker that she indeed was. Wish I had the opportunity to meet her again but that never happened. Her demise has deprived the pesticide-rich Marathi soil of a rare artist who could create a magic potion of art and activism with rare aplomb.
The other day, I was overjoyed to catch the soulful timbre of her voice - ironically born out of a voice impediment - in 'Court' fame Chaitanya Tamhane's 'Disciple', a whimsical take on a delightfully introspective theme that refuses to take off (and deserves a court-martial)
Going by the rich accolades and the litany of over-obliging reviews, his film will indeed travel the world over; he is already a merchant of Venice, courtesy the 2020 competition entry. Yet, the gloss of his product can't condone the lackadaisical and lazy effort, basking in the glory of its maker's offbeat stature. The film had so much to go for it - a competent singer-actor (hard to find), a purposeful spoof on the reality TV template organically etched to the protagonist's tale of all trials and no triumphs, and a few enduring frames of everyday conversations that convey more than the gaudy moments that Tamhane chooses to underline with hubristic authority.
On the face of it, Tamhane narrates the melancholic saga of a classical vocalist but ends up employing the pet motifs of the pseudo avant-garde arsenal to no avail: 'item numbers' rooted in mindless shock value that inevitably disturb the algebra and geometry of the theme. To convey the sexual frustration born out of clumsy infatuation, given all time and attention devoted to a cultivated loyalty to his Guru, the protagonist is made to masturbate on what seems like a staple diet of porn, with not one but two frames devoted to the solo sport. And for a guy who is definitively reticent and inward-looking, emptying his glass of lime juice on a caustic music critic in true-blue Bollywood style looks ridiculously out of place. And then, we also have the over-chewed concluding frame of a beggar rendering a folk tune in a moving train which many reviewers can't stop raving about - (breathtakingly compelling, delightfully open-ended, surreally immersive, poignantly meditative et al)
Thankfully, Bhave's voice-over is a redeeming feature of this over-indulgent movie. If Tamhane truly cares for the given subject matter, we would urge him to make a biopic on the maverick Kumar Gandharva who exposed musical purists and modernists in the same breath, as also the high and mighty experts who make a living speaking and writing about music. Rich cinematic material there, befitting Tamhane's intrinsic talent, and a beckon of inspiration for aspirants who wish to walk the path that 'Disciple' claims to tread.