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Captivated by freedom

ON A TRIP INTO THE UNKNOWN Shubhashish Bhutiani

ON A TRIP INTO THE UNKNOWN Shubhashish Bhutiani   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Young filmmaker Shubhashish Bhutiani talks about the metaphors and magic moments that dot his much-acclaimed Mukti Bhawan.

It is hard to believe a 25-year-old tackling the subject of salvation with such sanguine approach. Yes, behind Mukti Bhawan, one of the most meaningful films to come out in the recent past, something the jury of the 64th National Awards also noted while awarding a Special Mention to the film, is the young Shubhashish Bhutiani. He studied in a boarding school in Mussoorie before moving to New York to graduate at the School of Visual Arts. “The catalyst was my own experiences. I had gone to Benaras like a lost young person. When I went there, I heard about these Mukti Bhawans and found the thought of checking in to die, charming. “You have 15 days, else you check out.” Shubhashish had seen some estranged relationships in families around him where old-age parents were being taken care of and in Mukti Bhawan he found an anchor around which we could weave a tale. “People have to juggle different things. I had seen my own father taking care of my grand father when he was not in a good physical shape.” Is it why he was sent to Mussoorie? Shubhashish is a little ambivalent on that but he does say that it was the relatable human element in the conflict that pushed him to tell the story. “The idea was to look at liberation not just from religious point of view but also in the context of personal freedom and debts one has to pay in life. But I had to ensure that it doesn’t look touristy,” reflects Shubhashish.

Indian connection

One suggests like Ritesh Batra in The Sense of An Ending, he is yet another young filmmaker who has made old age central to the story. Shubhashish says, there is more. “ What this film does is that it looks at the same incident from the eyes of three different generations. It is also reflective of present-day India when a section is busy consolidating cultural and traditional mores while there is a set of people wanting development and liberalism. In between, there is a struggle between the East and West and the issue of cultural dilution with internet telling us what people are eating and wearing in different parts of the world. Things like what is organic food?” The film obviously doesn’t touch upon all these things, but Subhashish does admit, “Young filmmakers are in the process of questioning of who they are.” Are they returning home after telling rootless stories for a while? “I can only speak about myself. Of course, I identify myself as an Indian but at the same time I believe in global thinking. I tell Indian stories because that’s my identity but I am watching films from all over the world.”

He clarifies the global influence is no longer just technical. “It is about the way we talk and the food we eat. Filmmaking is only five percent of my life. The rest of my life is about things like what I eat and how I talk and it affects the stories I tell. We have reached a stage where we are discovering things about ourselves.”

Having said that, he adds, “I am coming back home but I had never left it completely. Metaphorically, the home was always with me. In fact, when I went outside, I understood India better. You get to know what is unique about your country when you go abroad. There is an element of me coming back home because I am thinking about home in a deeper way.”

As things get deeper and little incoherent, Shubhashish chuckles, “To be fair, I am at an age where I am discovering myself. I am far from someone who understands completely what he is. When you start thinking about these things, you start working backwards.”

So he goes back to his childhood, when with his mother he would to go Rajasthan. “At that time, may be, I was not interested in the culture of Rajasthan because I was living it but now when I go I have a conversation with my naani on how her childhood was. Now when I go out in a rickshaw, I am more observant....”

Sense of nostalgia?

Is a sense of nostalgia seeping into a section of audience who have found financial security in metros and on foreign shores and Mukti Bhawans bring them close to the past they once left to make a future? “I don’t think so. People who are still living that reality will also connect with such films. I screened Mukti Bhawan during the birthday celebrations of my grandfather and local people related to the film. Different people are finding different things in the film.”

After a pause, once again, Shubhashish admits there is indeed a nostalgic appeal. “They keep missing their families a lot. When your mother keeps pushing you to have food, you find it encroachment on your personal freedom. But, when you are alone, you feel like why someone is not asking. You like to get pampered.”

More than logistic obstacles, Shubhashish says, the challenge was to get the right tone and feeling for the subject. He spent days recording people who lived in Mukti Bhawans. “Just like a journalist records his sources. It is not the story of one Mukti Bhawan. I visited two-three and then coalesced by experiences. By the end of it I had so many stories that I didn’t know what to keep and what to cut out. The most fascinating ones were those where people came with a set date of death in mind like the birth day of a person and they actually passed away on that day. It made one wonder whether someone can have premonition about one’s death. And the vibe of the place is such that you start believing in the supernatural,” muses Shubhashish.

The film has a distinct humorous touch, but Shubhashish says he had to ensure that it should not laugh at the people who believe in Mukti Bhawans. “I wanted it to be as emotionally honest as possible. Also, I don’t consider myself as an ‘urban’ guy and I am searching freedom from myself to be a better person in many ways.”

Collaborative approach

In an industry, dotted with camps, Shubhashish talks of taking a collaborative approach to improve content. “Not just in independent cinema,” he avers. “Let’s look at a company like Pixar, where different directors discuss a Toy Story. May be I am young that is why I am talking like that. May be after 10 years, I will change, but right now I feel it is such an important thing for creative minds to trust each other and make better films.” We often talk about artistic egos but Subhashish cites the example of the Three Amigos: Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. “They are making some of the best Hollywood films. I guess we also had it before in the times of Bimal Roy and Guru Dutt.”

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 2:09:48 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/captivated-by-freedom/article18101631.ece

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