Screen + Sound + Stage
Text by Ranjabati Das
Chaitanya Tamhane’s sophomore outing The Disciple won the FIPRESCI award as well as the award for the Best Screenplay at the 2020 Venice Film Festival. The last Indian film to be awarded the FIPRESCI Award was Mathilukal in 1990. The Marathi-language film is the first Indian movie in 20 years to be chosen for the main competition of a European film festival. The 10-day-long 77th Venice International Film Festival (September 2-12) was the first major international film festival to take place during the pandemic this year.
CHAITANYA TAMHANE, Director-writer
Do you think the spirit of the fest has changed because of the pandemic? What are some of the differences in Venice 2020 from the last time you were there with Court?
I was pleasantly surprised to see that the spirit of the festival was intact and wasn’t very drastically different from when I had been there in 2014 and 2016. There were a lot of safety protocols in place — people were wearing masks, for example — but we could feel the energy and vibe of the physical event and the frenzy of the media although they were a lot more restrained. I would say it was surreal to watch the film on a big screen with other people while social distancing.
The Disciple is just starting its journey. Awards are a really good validation of your work but that’s also not the main motivation why I made both the films. Also this time, we were in the main competition so obviously the competition was a lot tougher.
How many films did you see last time versus this time?
In the past, when I went to the festival with Court, I did manage to see a few films. When I was on the jury in 2016, I had to watch all the films in the section that I was serving the duty for. But this time I could not catch even a single film because there was a 120-hours restriction and we were there for a very limited time. It was very hectic doing a press conference, lots of interviews and our own screening. I barely had enough time to do the work that we had to do with our own film so unfortunately, I could not watch any film this time.
VIVEK GOMBER, Producer
Do you think the spirit of the fest has changed because of the pandemic?
The spirit might have been affected but it remains strong and there is resilience. The fact that the festival was able to adjust to a pandemic is truly remarkable. Of course, things had to be different: there were masks, social distancing, admittance in screenings were halved hence fewer films, etc. It was emotional to be watching our film with other people, it seemed like an impossible dream six months ago.
How many films did you see last time versus this time?
I watched quite a few last time around when we had decided to come for 10 days. We didn’t know what would happen with Court after Venice. So we decided to make the most of it and see films and enjoy our time there. I remember two films that have stayed with me — The Act of Killing (2012) from director Joshua Oppenheimer and Roy Anderson’s A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014). This time, we were on the ground for 96 hours, so I only saw our film, and that will stay with me forever.
TANAJI DASGUPTA, Head of Post Production
What are some of the precautions you had to take to travel to and while at the festival this year?
Travelling during this time was very complicated for obvious reasons. We couldn’t be sure for the longest time if we would actually be able to make it to Venice. Then we came to know as a special exception we would be able to travel if we are in and out of Italy under 120 hours. We planned everything around that and are very grateful to the Venice Film Festival authorities as well as the Consulate General of Italy in Mumbai for their tremendous support to make this possible. We had to take multiple COVID tests in Mumbai before travelling and in Venice upon our arrival. Apart from that, we just had to be very careful about maintaining the basic protocols of masks, sanitisation and social distancing as much as possible.
How has the experience of the film fest intrinsically changed for you?
This was my first time at the Venice Film Festival. I’ve been to TIFF, Berlinale, Slamdance amongst others in the last few years. I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see that despite all the safety measures, the festival was buzzing with excitement. It felt extremely special to be in a place where people are finally being able to enter a theatre and watch a film on the big screen together. That shared joy was palpable and it’s something I will never forget.
It’s your first time at the Venice International Film Festival, were you able to see the city at all?
The festival actually takes place on Lido, which is a smaller, separate island. I did manage to steal a couple of hours from work and go to Venice on the last day and that felt amazing. I was there as a tourist 13 years ago with my parents so it brought back a lot of great memories.
Something you didn’t expect?
I didn’t expect everything that we meticulously planned for the last two months to actually fall into place! There were numerous obstacles along the way but ultimately everything worked out. It still hasn’t quite sunk in that we actually made it to Venice for five days for our world premiere and made it back to Mumbai.
This experience has been one of the ultimate highs in my life and career. I’d been a massive fan of Court and was always keen to work with Chaitanya and Vivek. To have that opportunity on their very next film and that too specifically, The Disciple — a film set in the world of Indian classical music, which is very close to my heart — is simply some exceptional collusion in the universe for me. I’m just very grateful and very proud of the film.