Mukti Bhawan: Death Has Meaning Too!

Having watched this movie a couple of months ago (I don’t know if it’s over a year) at Siri Fort Auditorium, I’m reflecting on it today. I do not know if I was triggered by something in particular but living and dying have been my favourite subjects for overthinking. So, I thought to write something about it in context to the movie. 

At this point, I’m reminded of Viktor E. Frankl‘s book, Man’s Search For Meaning, this movie, Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation) and another great movie directed by Rajat Kapoor, Ankhon Dekhi.

Having lost my father at the age of 15 or be it struggling all throughout my life from pioneering in every endeavour and yet remaining clueless about life and ‘career‘ (another movie which I want to cite here is, Into the Wild), I think I’ve known life, up-close and faced it head-on, for past 24 years. And it surprises me, this life and its weird plays & games. And in particular, intrigued by Hindu mythological concept of the cycle of life and death, I write about this movie. 

A young, Shubhashish Bhutiani (26) has directed this movie in the discussion; starring Navnindra Behl (Rajiv’s mother), Adil Hussain (Rajiv), Lalit Behl (Rajiv’s father), Palomi Ghosh (Rajiv’s daughter), Anil Rastogi (Mishraji) and Geetanjli Kulkarni (Rajiv’s wife). The brilliant direction by Bhutiani & poignant portrayal of Rajiv won them, a Special Mention (Actor) & Special Mention (Direction) at the 64th National Film Awards by Govt. of India (respectively).


Rajiv is no different from any married man and a working father who is around 50-55, worried about the work in the office, handling a shrewd and always pissed off boss, making its way to deal with a wife, who is idiosyncratic and a demanding father, to whom he’s a dutiful son. And a freedom-lover young daughter just completes the picture. And it goes without saying, she’s unmarried and hence add to his woes further. Well, this is a typical middle class, Hindu society subplot of the movie. 

But this is not what the story is about and it is not also a story about an arrogant father who is head-bent on dying at the ghats of Varanasi. It’s a tale of how we live, how we persevere, how we interact, how we negotiate, and how we express love to our loved ones. This movie is also about moving on with life. Facing life as it is and accepting the truth, that it’s the end which makes life complete. It is very much a movie about life as it is about death.

In the movie, we have, Lalit Behl who is like our Dadaji and as our grandfathers are, he’s stubborn, arrogant and demanding. He wants what he wants. And as our grandfathers do this always, he gets his way by saying that he’s a guest for a few more days. Following this argument, every debate ends there and his wish is fulfilled. So, what happens in this movie is no different. Rajiv’s father has dreamt that his days are numbered and that he wants to spend his rest of the days at a Hotel of Salvation (Mukti Bhawan) in Varanasi where bookings are done in advance for people whose days are limited and they want to die at the ghats of Varanasi. 

[According to Hindu Mythology, someone who dies is considered to be a blessed one and achieves, Mukti (Salvation).] 

Rajiv asks for a few ‘personal leaves’ from the office and he, obviously, is reprimanded by his boss. But anyhow manages to oblige to his father’s demand. The typical middle-class wife’s response is evident to be depicted in the movie and is amicably shot and how. I marvel at Bhutiani’s direction. Rajiv while mentioning that he has to fulfil his father’s request before his wife is faced with indifference and callous behaviour by his wife who is applying a-kind-of-cream or lotion before bed. And they’re shown in two different blocks of the same frame, on left she applying cream/lotion while looking into a mirror and Rajiv, in the right, working; makes me wonder if it was deliberate and I fancy it was. 

His struggles aren’t over yet. Even after taking his old father to the desired place, he learns that there’s a prior booking but somehow they manage to get his father admitted. And anyone who comes at Mukti Bhawan, as declared by Mishraji, has only 15 days to die. It’s kind of a humorous statement which affirms that if you’re not sure that you’re going to die within 15 days, your right to admission is reserved. Funny! But we do learn that Mishraji tweaks this rule in his own way when Rajiv goes to him with the related concern for his father haven’t departed during the tenure. He says that he registers the person with another name after 15 days so as the person can stay for a longer period of time. I do not know what to comment on this. Is he fulfil the wishes of the admittees? Is it philanthropy? To let people stay to die.

There in the hotel, Rajiv is finding hard to keep up with his father’s daily chores while his father finds a real company or companion in the form of Vimlaji. A widow Vimla is filling the void in his father’s life. He begins to taste life, again. He seems to be real happy. And as always, this was received by a roar of laughter among the audience, for we cannot digest that one can love even in his or her seventies. 
In a very weird way, Rajiv is anticipating the death of his father because he seems to be enjoying his life where he has come to breathe his last. And he keeps on rummaging of continuing his official other familial responsibilities. He should be carrying on after all. What can he do in this situation? 
He finally chooses to address the familial responsibilities over his father. And there’s a painfully beautiful display of test of familial bonds during this time. And it is equally beautiful to see the relationship between his father and Vimlaji develop. When he returns (Rajiv, to the hotel salvation), this time, with his wife and daughter, the game is altogether different. Rajiv is angry with his daughter not complying to marry a guy whom he feels his daughter should happily marry but Rajiv’s father encourages her to do what her heart feels like. And she calls off the marriage. The family is torn or, one can say, bonded as well after coming together after this decision at the hotel. They visit ghats and all in Varanasi. They are spending time together. But a news is floated by one of hotel salvation’s staff that Vimlaji has left for the heavenly abode. And now his father is a little taken aback by the sudden demise of Vimlaji. Not able to cope with this emptiness he is tormented but continues living.  And then finally, dies.
Or shall we say he breathed life in his last days like never before when the whole family was really together during this time?
A scintilla of emotions is embarked upon the audience experiencing something altogether eerie and uncanny when people are actually shown celebrating the death of our stubborn Dadaji, Rajiv’s father. The whole family is marching in the street with the corpse when suddenly Rajiv’s daughter is pulling her father’s and mother’s hands to join in the celebration. Actually making them uncomfortable and persuading to commemorate this ‘dying‘. A hesitant wife and husband do comply and they’re weeping with a smile now.
It gives me goosebumps while I write this because I cannot describe this feeling watching this movie end like this. And I cannot say whether dying is always a good experience, looking from the perspective of the deceased family’s side. I lost my father in a car accident and it was not celebratory. Had it been at the age of Rajiv’s father, I guess, it would have been. But why do we tend to celebrate these events differently?
I think I have an answer; we’re afraid of accepting life and especially death.  But, as an unknown blogger, I do not add much value or weight in my argument, so I think I should transfer this responsibility to the great psychiatrist & neurologist, Viktor E. Frankl, who in his famous work, Man’s Search for Meaning notes this:

If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an ineradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.

Ending here is apt, I guess.

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