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The Best Movies on Netflix (2023) 13. The Disciple

Hazel Wyatt

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Year: 2021
Director: Chaitanya Tamhane
Stars: Aditya Modak, Arun Dravid, Sumitra Bhave
Rating: TV-MA
Runtime: 128 minutes


Devoting your life to something—art, passion, religion—is sold to us as admirable, but often only if it fulfills our romantic ideals of what that life looks like. Is success, no matter how late or even posthumous, the justification for striving? Writer/director/editor Chaitanya Tamhane explores this idea through the life of classical Indian singer Sharad Nerulkar (Aditya Modak), an earnest hardliner raised by his music-loving father and recordings of legendary singer/guru Maai (Sumitra Bhave). Will he be recognized for greatness, stepping out of the shadows? Or will he follow his father into tangential obscurity? Fascinating long takes resonating with the same kind of richness found in its myriad array of singers’ undulating taan allow us plenty of space to take in the music and the devotion on display; sharp, dark humor punctuates the contemplative film with jabs at pigheadedness. Modok’s excellent performance contains similar depth, all hidden behind a yearning tension and unwavering gaze. He embodies the unfulfilled artist, one who sees success all around him from fools and rubes—though he can’t consider what could possibly be holding him back. It’s a heartbreaking, endearing, prickly performance, and one that creates a truly winning portrait. Even when it rolls along as steadily and dispassionately as Sharad’s motorcycle, The Disciple contains warmth for its central sadsack artist and his dedication to never selling out.—Jacob Oller

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