Director: Shubhashish Bhutiani
Cast: Adil Hussain, Lalit Behl, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Palomi Ghosh and others
Rating: * * * *
An old man has a premonition of death and decides he must go to Benaras to die and attain salvation. With this skein of gossamer thread, young director Shubhashish Bhutiani has woven a delicate film 'Mukti Bhawan' about life, death and human emotions, often leaving the viewer to understand what is not stated.
Dayanand (Lalit Behl - well-cast) bulldozes his mild-mannered son Rajeev (Adil Hussain - outstanding) into accompanying him. A scene in which Rajeev’s wife (Geetanjali Kulkarni) questions him about how long the trip will take, while casually applying moisturiser, indicates that he is under her thumb too, and bullied by his boss and clients as well (he works in a dull, generic looking office). He is a dutiful son, but his relationship with his father is a bit formal, unlike his daughter (Palomi Ghosh) who treats Dayanand like a buddy.
Once in crowded Benaras, they sign up to stay in a shabby lodge, where people come to spend their last days. Mishraji (Anil K. Rastogi—excellent) who runs the place is practical and brusque, but also compassionate enough to bend the rules to help the elderly who come there to wait for death. Juggling his office work over the phone, and meeting his father’s endless and sometimes unreasonable demands, Rajeev is always harried, but Dayanand makes friends in the lodge, including a stoic lady (a lovely Navnindra Behl), who has been there for eighteen years.
The subject is heavy, but the film is not at all morbid and, in fact, infuses humour whenever possible—a throwaway line, or a look or an unexpected scene—like the wife and daughter visiting because they think the time has come, shopping for saris for the young woman’s impending wedding. It is through their eyes the exotic side of Varanasi is seen, otherwise, it is mundane life by the river, where people wash their sins as well as their clothes, seen in luminous frames.
'Mukti Bhawan' is a wonderful gem of a film, that is like a palate-cleanser amidst the noisy chaos of regular mainstream cinema.