REVIEW: It is difficult to sell a story that actively deals with a topic that people instinctively refrain from. Nobody wants to think about the most undeniable part of life: death.
And yet, Mukti Bhawan makes no bones about it. It’s as if writer-director Shubhashish Bhutiani wants to normalize the subject for reluctant viewers. He sets his story in a lodging facility where people arrive only to depart permanently. And tells it through the dead and those waiting to die in the claustrophobic lanes of Varanasi. He employs the city’s nonchalance about death, its cremation ghats, its newspaper obituaries and its priests to tell us the story of Daya.
Daya (Lalit Behl), 77, can sense the end of his time and wants to breathe his last at Mukti Bhawan, just like his father did. His son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) is a mid-level office worker who is dying under the pressure of deadlines on a daily basis. But Rajiv must drop all earthly things and take his father on his last journey.
As Rajiv’s pragmatism clashes with Daya’s traditional views, we’re left with a fresh take on the end of life. The rules and loopholes of this halfway-house-for-the-dying leave Rajiv gobsmacked, even as he realizes that there’s no argument strong enough to nullify pure faith.
Rajiv’s wife Lata (Geetanjali Kulkarni) shares his inability to understand his father’s wishes, whereas his daughter Sunita (Palomi Ghosh) prefers humouring the old man. They’re unofficially divided in two teams, giving us four perspectives on life.
Bhutiani has assembled a stellar cast of theatre greats and indie-film favourites. Behl and Hussain are endearing as the father-son duo, frustrated by and fond of each other simultaneously.
The plot is too skimpy and with its languid pacing, the movie eventually seems a bit indulgent. The filmmaker’s exposure to slow, contemplative festival films becomes apparent. But the unassuming characters and the humour make it a delightful watch.
If in-your-face Bollywood blockbusters have bored you to death, Mukti Bhawan is your salvation.