The art of dying gracefully and knowing your near and dear ones the most when you are going to ‘stay forever’.. MUKTI BHAWAN (HOTEL SALVATION – English title) is heart warming, funny, gentle and a rare take on life and relationship by the 25-years-old young helmer Shubhashish Bhutiani (his previous live-action short-film KUCH was shortlisted for the Oscars in 2013).
This desi art house material got premiered at Venice, where it won the annual Prix Enrico Fulchignoni, an award given by the International Council of Film and Television at UNESCO to the film that represents the values of peace and human rights.
Truly ambitious in its profound ability to say the philosophy of life and death laced with subtle humour, poetic rhythm, Indian family values and standout performances, MUKTI BHAWAN is a home worth a visit for aficionados of quality, art, who look for sense and sensibilities in India’s modern indie cinema.
Writers Shubhashish Bhutiani and Asad Hussain combine the elements of the 2011 John Madden’s British comedy drama THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (ageing with dignity) and Alexander Payne’s 2013 Palme D’Or nominee NEBRASKA (father and son coming to know each other lately) in this touching story of a middle aged Rajeev (Adil Hussain) whose 77 year-old father Daya (Lalit Behl) is haunted by dreams that makes him believe that his time is coming.
Daya wishes to spend the rest of his life staying in the city of Varanasi located on the banks of the holy Ganges and waiting for his death with grace. As per rituals, after donating a cow Daya embarks on his journey with his son Rajeev. For the time bound and busy Rajeev it’s initially a duty which gradually turns into a bonding and new found love with his father which had gone missing due to his busy schedules and work pressures.
Shubhashish approach is simple, grounded with wit and blended with Indian tradition and values that make an instant connect with the concern audience. The setting is pious and characters come alive like Mishraji (Anil K. Rastogi) who firmly says no to consumption of alcohol and meat in the premise of MUKTI BHAWAN but smartly shows the way where a good ‘bhang’ can be obtained.
Once Rajeev checks in to MUKTI BHAWAN, his father settles in immediately but Rajeev takes time in coming to terms coping with pressure from his his boss and father’s simple demands of milk and food. Daya makes friends with a widow Vimla (Navnindra Behl) who is waiting for last 15 years for her time to say the final good bye. According to the rules of MUKTI BHAWAN, a person gets maximum 15 days to stay there and wait for his death. But Vimla is staying for 15 years, the pan chewing Mishraji who knows everything has a smart answer, he says days can be extended and the person can stay longer but with a different name.
With this sequence, Shubhashish brilliantly explains the philosophy that nothing is certain in life, things change and it’s the body of the human that is possessed by name and fame. Soul is free and immortal. This unique ability by the director to showcase the Indian culture and value systems in this film by touching upon the unusual subject of dying with grace makes MUKTI BHAWAN a rare little gem. The movie also makes a humorous comment on rebirth with that Kangaroo sequence that’s brings both smiles and tears.
Powered by outstanding performance, the movie sees Adil Hussain in a brilliant act, carrying that beleaguered face, the actor slowly and gradually brings smiles to the audience’s face and his character with a winning portrayal of a duty bound son who lately but surely finds the lost love for his father.
Lalit Behl as the father is pleasant and endearing. Both Adil and Lalit make a charming pair as father and son. Geetanjali Kulkarni as the wife is fantastic. Palomi Ghosh as the loving daughter is earnest and has her moments. Navnindra Behl is fabulous. Anil K Rastogi is brilliant.
Tajdar Junaid’s music goes with the theme and flows as desired. Cinematography by Michael McSweeney and David Huwiler is marvelous both while capturing the Holy Ganges and the dingy interiors of MUKTI BHAWAN.
Not for everyone but certainly a must for someone who cares for cinema with some sense and substance, MUKTI BHAWAN is a rare piece of art that is both humorous and tragic plus it is unique in holding Indian belief into a cinema that not only capture the eye but lightly massages your soul as well.