‘Mukti Bhawan’ Review: A Masterpiece That Embraces Life and Death
‘Mukti Bhawan’ narrates an unusual journey to death.
Death is the ultimate truth, a denouement we are familiar with but are we truly ever fully prepared to die… even when we know that the end is near?
If no one can escape the ultimate embrace, can we spend our time in the waiting room of life to say our final goodbyes? Can life then be lived in the waiting room of death is the question. Shubhashish Bhutiani’s debut feature film Mukti Bhawan or Hotel Salvation deals with the complexities of death with a simplicity that is endearing.
Death is mentioned in every scene of the film. From the first time when 77-year-old retired school teacher of Kannauj, Dayashanker Sharma, speaks about this ominous dream and feels his time has come. He insists his son (Adil Hussain) takes him to Varanasi, the holy city at the banks of River Ganga, where people go to die to escape the cycle of life and death and gain ultimate salvation.
His irate son is constantly poked by his wife Lata (Geetanjali Kulkarni) about “Kitne din lagenge” as she questions him about the old man’s death. The caretaker of Mukti Bhawan (from which the film also gets its title) matter-of-factly announces that people must die within 15 days or leave.
In the conversations between the various residents of the Bhawan they wonder why the more eager ones have to wait for years while some have all the luck in life to die early.
Death is talked about, meditated upon, sometime shown in all this bizarre glory or revered for its glorious uncertainly from where it also derives much of its blissful humour, but never morbid or gory.
Fittingly, in the screenplay penned by Bhutiani and Asad Hussain, death is given the dignity it deserves without letting frivolity blunt its edges. Just like everyone’s take on life is different, they have a unique approach to death as well which makes this film richer. It breathes slowly with the frames being luxuriated by Varanasi in all its realism.
Nothing has been photoshopped for comfort by David Huwiler and Michael McSweeney and yet Varanasi looks nothing like what we have seen it in mainstream movies till now. An air of solemnity hangs heavy, a bliss where the city seems to have made peace with death itself. It comes alive, quite like Dayashanker does while waiting for his own death.
No doubt that Bhutiani is a gifted filmmaker. His live-action short film Kuch was shortlisted for the Academy Awards, but for a 25-year-old to make such a mature film about life and death without for once letting the morbidity kick in is truly amazing.
While the impending death dominates all conversations, it’s the silences that make it pulsate with credible potency.
Aided with music by Tajdar Junaid used sparingly but efficiently, the compelling performances bring out the poignancy of relationships. The father-son bond intimately portrayed by Lalit Behl and Adil Hussain is the soul of the film. Geetanjali Kulkarni and Palomi Ghosh along with Navnindra Behl through their finely-crafted performances make the film incredibly fascinating.
Go watch Mukti Bhawan and soak in the magic that great cinema holds. The subject and treatment might make those bred only on masala commercial films shift in their seats, but it still is a near perfect film. 4.5 quints.
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