It takes a lot of fresh thinking to conceptualize cinema that deals with search for salvation beyond death through the lens of life. One gets even more amazed knowing that this thinking comes from a director who is all of 25 years old! And when he handles this subject with all the much needed maturity, sublime understatement, and with such tenderness & positivity, he deserves to be applauded for that effort that becomes Mukti Bhawan
Subhashish Bhutiani tells the story of the journey of a 77 year old patriarch Daya Kumar who desires to attain salvation on the ghats of Kashi, and his irritated, perplexed and yet dutiful middle aged son Rajeev who is dealing with the daily grinds of life and yet cannot ignore what his father wishes for! What follows is a string of beautifully sketched moments between the father and son, whether its about conceding to the daily tantrums of the stubborn old man, or the son actually living through the fear of awaited last moments, or the candid moment of chuckle shared between the two trying to explore how the old man would like to be reborn as! Bhutiani consistently uses two powerful levers – understated emotions and humour in everyday happenings, in creating this slice of life cinema; whether it is the psychological trauma that the son goes through with everything that he visualizes all around, or the moments of life stolen by the grandfather-granddaugter duo who indulge in sudden bhaang on banks of the holy river, or the family preparing for an upcoming wedding even when the agony of awaited death stares at them, or a delicate bond of companionship developing between two elderly people waiting at the same stage of life for the same end result! And through this entire journey, the triumph of Bhutiani lies in the fact that he stays completely non-judgmental in everything that he shows, and nothing that he forcefully tells!
There is very little ‘story’ to tell anyway, and it is all about a string of masterfully crafted understated moments that emerge! There are times where Bhutiani struggles to string the moments uniformly and is at the edge of dropping the ball to repetition, but thankfully recovers quickly and recovers well. Life continues to get celebrated in all its futility, and even in death it comes a full circle with renewed bonds strengthened between a father and his child again!
Casting each character to perfection is a big victory for the film, and each actor (if they should at all be called so) stands very tall in underplaying the role with great finesse. Adil Hussain is in terrific form and invokes brilliance in every shot without trying to make a forceful point ever. This could easily be one of the finest acts of the year or for a long time to come. Lalit Behl is equally good and never falls into the pit of over dramatization that is an easy give away for a character like his! Palomi Ghosh is lovely as the vivacious grand daughter, and Geetanjali Kulkarni is wonderfully restrained and apt. Navninda Behl brings in a lot of grace and calmness on her part of Vimala to the story as well. Technically, the film has some brilliant camera work and the canvas of Benaras is gorgeously presented whether it’s the disturbing visuals of Manikarnika, the vibrancy of the ghats of the holy river, the stingy by-lanes of the old city, or the dungeon like environment of Mukti Bhawan! The dialogs find wit and humor in their natural flow, the screenplay shines in attention to detail and the background score leaves a definitive mark in the narrative!
Its not very common of cinema to handle approaching inevitable death with such intricate subtle humor and surprising tenderness, and celebrate the art of living a futile life with such understated poise. That is what makes Mukti Bhawan the BIG Small film of the year! Such cinema needs to be celebrated by one and all!