Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation): Life, death and everything in between
by Manika Verma
With critics and cinema lovers lavishing praise on this film on different platforms, ‘Mukti Bhawan’ with its simple story yet touching depiction of old age, has to be one of the best films to watch this year, and indeed, in recent times.
Rating – ★★★★☆
‘Mukti Bhawan’ looks at death with clear, understanding eyes and a dash of humour as it focuses on its central character, the implacably stubborn 77-year-old Dayashanker Sharma (Daya, in short), and his family. Rajiv, his son, is an over-worked insurance agent, while his wife Lata is only concerned about running the house and keeping her rebellious young daughter, Sunita, in check. The self-occupied family barely manages to stay in touch with one another. However, a sudden incident in their lives brings them together. A sign of his own approaching end makes Daya decide that he needs to prepare for his death in holy Varanasi. Rajiv is left with no choice but to accompany him.
Shakespeare compared the last stage of a man’s life to ”a second childishness” where men act like, and live a life similar to a child’s before they die. Ever since Daya decides to relocate, there is a role-reversal in the family. Lalit Behl’s Daya appears and acts like a child to Adil Hussain’s Rajiv. The latter cooks for, feeds, and takes care of the former when he falls sick.
At Mukti Bhawan, a home for those awaiting death, ironically life increasingly brightens for Daya. He is charmed by another moksha-seeking inmate, the long-standing widow, Vimla. As Daya and Vimla walk together hand in hand, Rajiv’s initial dismay is that of a father seeing his child flirting for the first time. His irritation increases as their relationship gets more intimate. It is this closeness and honesty, missing in their city home, that brings out their true affection for one another.
When Daya gets high fever and thinks he is going to die, the two share a heartfelt moment. They apologise for all the things they might have done to each other. This openness extends to Rajiv’s relationship with his daughter Sunita, which this trip alters forever.
Rajiv’s entrapment is implicit in the way the film is shot. He is invariably seen behind railings or in their shadows. He is a prisoner in his own surroundings who achieves his own salvation in Varanasi. He returns home as a better husband, father, and overall, a better person.
The outstanding cast led by Lalit Behl and Adil Hussain make the family feel palpably real and alive at every point in the film, heightened by Tajdar Junaid’s minimally used music. Mike Mcsweeny and David Huwiler’s camera catches almost every colour that the city of Varanasi has to offer, be it the purple and orange sky, the yellow light of the diyas on a pitch black evening or the brown hues of the holy Ganges.
At 21, Mumbai-based Shubhashish Bhutiani wrote and directed ‘Kush’, his thesis short film for his undergraduate course at the School of Visual Arts in New York. The film immediately shot him to fame, traveling widely and winning awards. It is based around unsuspecting school children caught in in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots.
Shubhashish’s debut feature ‘Mukti Bhavan’ has surpassed the success of his short; swamped with awards and honours in the short span of nine months of its festival run. At its world premiere at the 70th Venice International Film Festival held in September 2016, it won the prestigious UNESCO Award (for the values expressed on the importance of family, their time spent together in respect and with love, and those values of human rights which we all share). It subsequently screened at the Busan Festival (September), the Dubai Festival (December), and went on to bag the Critics Choice Award at the Vesoul International Film Festival (February).
Over April 2017, the film had its North America premiere at the 60th San Francisco Film Festival, then drew high acclaim as the closing film at the 15th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles. It is now headed for Indi Meme at Texas and in May at the New York Indian Film Festival.
‘Mukti Bhawan’has also had one of the quickest film releases following its film festival success. In India it opened on April 7 (in select cities – Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Mumbai, National Capital Region (NCR), and Pune).
Catch this film while it is still playing in a theatre near you!
(Left: Director Shubhashish Bhutiani at the 70th Venice International Film Festival)
(Manika Verma recently graduated with a Bachelor’s in Mass Media (Journalism) from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, and writes for FilmIndia Global)