Mukti Bhawan: In search of salvation

The slice-of-life look at mortality is as much about laughter as it is to do with tears

Updated - April 07, 2017 06:46 pm IST

Published - April 07, 2017 10:59 am IST

The experience of death can happen for some unduly early in life, with a brutal, life altering abruptness. And then for a lot of us the acute awareness of mortality comes with age and time. When the elders in the extended family—the soothing, steady and secure presence of our childhood—start showing the vulnerabilities and helplessness of old age.

I find myself, and many of my friends, at that stage — exasperated as the elders keep turning more cantankerous and quirky; at the same time filled with an irreconcilable fear of impending loss with senior citizens who appear to be in some kind of preparation for the final journey.

Mukti Bhawan

Director: Shubhashish Bhutiani

Starring: Lalit Behl, Adil Hussain, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Palomi Ghosh, Navnindra Behl RunTime: 99 minutes

A real family

Mukti Bhawan then doesn’t feel like a film but a lived reality. A father-son ride into and within Varanasi, where the father wants to embrace mukti (salvation), could be a journey into any of our own fractious relationships. A Piku for the soul. Lalit Behl and Adil Hussain are well in sync as the petulant Dayanand Kumar and irritable Rajeev—with their long-held grudges and guilt and awkward hugs of forgiveness and reconciliation.


But, to me Mukti Bhawan felt more about the son arriving at life’s vicissitudes and continuities through the crabby father on the one hand, a feisty daughter Sunita (Palomi Ghosh) on the other and a niggling but well-meaning wife Lata (Geetanjali Kulkarni) in the middle. The on-screen family is so well tuned that the members seem like they have been living together forever—while dining or in mourning. However, Hussain is particularly a treat as the flustered, bemused in-between generation; that trapped feeling reflecting in his gestures, gait and expressions.

It’s all about death yet a steady strain of humour makes the film whimsical than morbid. Like life there is no clear compartmentalisation between pleasure and pain, happiness and grief, celebration and mourning.

Things flow seamlessly — at times extremities stay concurrent and at others overlap. We laugh one minute, eyes well up the other and then we may well smile through our tears. The director’s treatment too has an underlying equanimity—enough drama but no melodramatic highs.

Life and death: Mukti Bhawan is whimsically morbid. special arrangement

Life and death:Mukti Bhawanis whimsically morbid.special arrangement


Life and salvation

Mukti Bhawan could have easily lapsed into Hindu religious claptrap. The whole idea of salvation and Varanasi can readily lend itself to it. Bhutiani doesn’t shy away from showing us that panoramic spirituality, which has tickled the West as much as it has been internalised by the Hindus.

He does take us on a tour of the death industry. But what helps the film rise above it is how the filmmaker keeps it intimate by zooming in on individual predicaments and how he intercuts the much mythologised Varanasi with the utter banalities of life on the streets: the Ganga arti seen through a bhang-induced haze, seeing death as a money-making process and salvation as business.

The film observes ritualism with a distanced, at times very wicked and sarcastic smile. But it is also sympathetic to faith as a mode of reconciling with the cycle of life. Mukti Bhawan is about finding life in death, of seeing life as a continuum which is what helps many of us deal with our losses, bereavements and the certainty of transience.

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