Mukti Bhawan movie cast: Lalit Behl, Adil Hussain, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Palomi Ghosh, Navnindra Behl, Anil K Rastogi
Mukti Bhawan movie director: Shubhashish Bhutiani
Mukti Bhawan movie rating: 3.5 stars
To shuffle off mortal coils, to be free of all earthly ties, to be one with the almighty: the ancient Hindu concept of ‘moksha’ is sublime in its beauty and simplicity, as both philosophy and practice, to live and die by.
When Dayanand Kumar (Lalit Behl) declares that this time has come, and that he wishes to check into Mukti Bhawan in Varanasi in order to prepare himself for his last journey, it leaves his family unprepared. Son Rajeev (Adil Hussain), displaying a mix of filial duty and resignation, is the accompanist; Rajeev’s wife Lata (Geetanjali Kulkarni) and daughter Sunita (Palomi Ghosh) are left to deal with the absence of the two men, one temporary, the other permanent.
Bhutiani’s debut feature is a many-layered revelation: of the interplay between life and death, the see-sawing connectedness and distance between family members; and how, in a very profound, absurdist sense, all of life is a journey towards death.
The film handles its heavy thematic strands with lightness. Mukti Bhawan (the film, with its English title ‘Salvation Hotel’ has been showing in international film festivals), a flea-pit establishment on the banks of the Ganga, infested by cockroaches and other long-lasting creatures, houses those who are counting down to their last hours.
A few minor faultlines are evident: sometimes the pauses become too deliberate; some lines are included for effect. And though the film’s Kashi is much more lived-in, and not as exoticised as it can be, stray glimpses of the picture-postcard Ganga arti, and the burning pyres, do find a place.
But these do not take away from the core of the film, which shows us how it is entirely possible to die, irradiated by life. One of the most beautiful strands involves a woman (Navnindra Behl, superb) who has been waiting for death for years, and whose gracious presence imparts a sense of peace to both father and son, wrestling with their own unrest, looking for different kinds of salvation.
The performances are a delight. Lalit Behl, who played the creepy father in Titli, comes off sometimes as too lugubrious, but gets the right amount of truculence as he talks to his son, entreating and demanding at the same time. The relationship between the two, fractured yet strong, and the manner in which the two discover fresh moorings, is a highlight of the film.
Kulkarni, so good in Court as the pugnacious public prosecutor, is terrific as the wife, daughter-in-law and mother, playing it with striking economy. So is Ghosh, the leading lady in Konkani film Nachom-ia-Kompasar, shines in a well-written role. And Rastogi, the phlegmatic paan-chewing ‘manager’ of Mukti Bhawan, brings wry humour in his unrolling of the rules and regulations, which includes an innovative flouting of the 15-day-stay-only-till-death-do-them-part rule.
There’s much to like about Mutki Bhawan. It brings to us themes which are either ignored or dealt with in our cinema with mawkishness and heavy sentimentality. Bhutiani removes the cloyingness and replaces it with a moving matter-of-fact acceptance of the final destination: this is a director to watch out for.
Everyone makes us watch, particularly Adil Hussain, who is pitch-perfect. He is unshowy yet fully visible, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him.