by Sayandeep Bandyopadhyay
Shubhashish Bhutiani, who is known for his critically acclaimed short film Kush, has now come up with his independent feature film Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation). The film starring Adil Hussain and Lalit Behl digs deep in a father-son relationship. Like Kush, “Hotel Salvation” has also been welcomed with open arms by various film festivals and will close the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles.
Daya (Lalit Behl), after having a nightmare, decides that his time has finally come and inspired by the dream, decides to spend the rest of his life in Varanasi, the holy city by the Ganges River, to attain inner peace. He leaves his son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) with a tough choice; either to assist him on this journey or to let him leave alone, in a totally unexpected, for him, series of events that leave him with no other options but to go with his father to Varanasi. Rajiv who is already facing a load of problems from his disgruntled boss and his daughter’s marriage, struggles to make time for this journey. Eventually, he decides to take some time off of his office work and reluctantly joins his father.
After reaching Varanasi, the pair checks in at Mukti Bhawan, a hotel which is specifically made for people who want to live out their last few days by the banks of the holy river. However, there’s a condition, and that is one can only live there for fifteen days. They settle in and slowly get accustomed to the ways of the hotel. They also meet Vimla (Navindra Behl); a widowed woman who has been living there for eighteen years,as the fifteen days rule does not apply on her. With passing time, the pair experiences various ups and downs in their relationship as we see a very heartwarming yet humorous story about a father-son relationship unfold.
“Hotel Salvation” is based on an actual hotel at Varanasi with the same name, where people come to attain “Mukti” or salvation. Bhutiani’s portrays the ambience of the hotel beautifully. His script is simple, heartwarming and humorous. The way he develops his main two characters and the ones around them deserves plaudit. During their stay at the hotel, Rajiv and Daya experience a new side of their relationship. Apart from knowing each other, they also come to know a lot of unknown things about themselves in the process. The director effectively portrays the city in this film. Varanasi, the city by the river Ganges, is known to all as the holy city of India and plays a very important part in the film. We, at time feel like as if the time has been stopped here at Varanasi. The pair, completely isolated from their daily lives and its cacophonies meet their true selves in this timeless city.
The character development is another interesting aspect of this movie. Daya settles seamlessly in the new surrounding where Rajiv initially struggles to adapt. For Daya, coming here is important because he senses that Varanasi is the only place where he can die peacefully, but for Rajiv this journey is a waste of time and his sole purpose is to get the job done quickly as he is in no mood for finding salvation. We see this in various scenes where he, at times, finds it difficult and claustrophobic to live in the hotel and in their confined room. Daya, on the other hand almost effortlessly befriends other people of the hotel and starts to enjoy his life. Their paths are very different, at times opposite but still they intertwine somehow. They both embark on the same journey, they share the same room but their take on this journey is very different. Their stories flow like a river, as Bhutiani unfolds the layers of his characters very carefully and gently. We see a restless and harried Rajiv stuck between his duties towards his father and his family. At times, we feel like he is holding back only because of the father-son relationship . We reach a point where we see a son desperately hoping for his father’s death. He is in so much of a hurry that when Daya gets seriously ill he sets his sight on the quick arrangements of his death, as he starts to look for pyres in the city. However, through the careful pacing of the film we see all of that change, as Rajiv, like his father, eventually finds a liking for this place and the people in it.
The journey for him is educational, he finds a new side in his father and he also learns about his own family. But his transition phase is always being jeopardised by the constant phone calls from his boss and his family. This feels like a wake-up call from reality to him and to us also, as like him, we too, find solace in this tender place, completely detached from the real, brutal lives out there. Daya on the other hand, had his sight set from the beginning. In the process of finding salvation he forgets about the lives of other people around him. The option which he gives his son is nonexistent and thoroughly unrealistic, but it doesn’t occur to him. He too, like his son, finds this journey life changing. Ironically, the place where he decids to spend his last few days is the one where he finds a whole new side of life and relationship.
The overall look of the movie is quite minimalist, so the cast and crew managed to keep it simple but, throughout the movie we see some very pleasing shots. The scene where Daya stands all alone at the centre of the screen after donating the cow, hints at his relationship with the rest of his family, or the scene where Rajiv and his wife argue, but the frame is divided by the wall which subtly defines their mentality towards Daya.
But for me, the scene which sets the tone for this movie is when Rajiv goes out to look for pyres in this movie and the camera tracks him for a while, making us feel as if we also join him to this quest, and through the lenses, we see another side of the city. Rajiv’s Skype calling scene with his family is worth mentioning too. In this scene, we see Rajiv’s restlessness being perfectly synonymous with the poor net connection, the scene is a perfect example of what tragicomedy really is. The cinematography by David Huwiler and Michael McSweeney is excellent and it’s perfectly complemented by the editing of Manas Mittal.
This film required the music to be soothing yet thought provoking, and Tajdar Junaid does just that. The introductions of the background scores are spot on, and there were times when the director did not use any background music and just let the surroundings do the trick.
Adil Hussain expertly portrays the character of the son, Rajiv. He shows his restlessness, frustration and tenderness at times with ease. He is a very dependable actor who barely lets his guards down and in this film he, again, shows us why he is held in such high regards. Lalit Behl, a veteran actor, plays the part of the father, Daya and he does it with ease. He is a highly respected stage actor who has been a part of many stage plays and telefilm as producer, actor and director. Recently, we saw his excellent acting skills in “Titli” and he does it again in “Mukti Bhawan”. He makes full use of his talent in this film. Hussain and Behl form a formidable father-son bond which will stay with me for a long time. We also see Daya’s bonding Vimla, played by Navindra Behl. Their refreshing friendship sends a clear signal about embracing life. Among the characters in the supporting roles, the one who steals the show is Mishraji, played by Anil K. Rastogi, the manager/priest of the hotel. His effortless acting and humorous dialogue delivery is an important part of this film. Geetanjali Kulkarni and Palomi Ghosh play Lata and Sunita, the wife and daughter of Rajiv. This is where I felt that the director should have showcased a little more screen time to them, as both show their praise-worthy acting talent in the short amount of screen time they shared.
Bhutiani has directed a gentle and heartwarming film. This kind of film deserves to be recognized and it definitely has, as it has won over the critics around the world. It’s a thought provoking film that tells us about the true essence of life.