Director: Shubhashish Bhutiani
Cast: Adil Hussain, Lalit Behl, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Palomi Ghosh
Mukti Bhawan is a film about death but it teaches you about life. On the Ghats of Banaras, amidst corpses, debris, ancient rituals and ruins, director Shubhashish Bhutiani finds joy, laughter, tenderness and a unique serenity. He tells his story with a measured pace and delicate hand. Mukti Bhawan has a stillness that is rare to find in the movies these days.
If you like thick plots and high-voltage drama, then Mukti Bhawan is unlikely to engage you. Not much happens here. An elderly man Daya decides that his time has come. He wants to die in a lodge in Banaras called Mukti Bhawan, where his father had died.
Daya’s hapless son Rajiv, has no choice but to accompany him. So father and son become roommates in a shambling hotel and wait for death. Rajiv is harassed by work deadlines. Daya is capricious and demanding. Old wounds slowly come to the fore but through this time together, father and son find a deeper understanding, of each other and life.
The narrative rests on moments rather than twists. In places, the storytelling strains and the languid narration tests your patience. But strong performances propel Mukti Bhawan. Adil Hussain is stellar as the stooped, pot-bellied Rajiv – a man scrambling to keep his family afloat and to be a worthy son. Lalit Behl as the cantankerous Daya towers over the film. Their arguments and slights have zero artifice – anyone who has ever felt the frustration and sadness of dealing with an ageing parent will make an instant connection.
Geetanjali Kulkarni as Rajiv’s wife and Palomi Ghosh as his spirited daughter are perfectly pitched. They embody middle-class normalcy.
Of course there is nothing normal about Banaras and the business of death. But Shubhashish isn’t interested in commenting or condemning. He only presents, with a striking poignancy, the ache of life and relationships. The masterstroke is that he also locates the humor in it.
So when Daya falls ill and bhajans begin in anticipation of death, he mumbles a request – that they sing in sur.
Any film that can get you laughing about death deserves to be seen.
Watch the trailer here: