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Times of India
: Rajiv accompanies his father to Mukti Bhawan, a temporary housing facility for the elderly who suspect that they will soon pass on.
: 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.
Our overall critics rating is not an average of the sub score below.
In a scene, a septuagenarian who has thrown in the towel is lying motionless on what appears to be his deathbed. He is visited by his well-wishers who assemble next to him and break into a bhajan to lull him into his final journey. At this point, he motions to the one closest to him and whispers something into her ears. She announces it to the rest, “He’s saying, ‘thoda sur mein gaaiye’.” It is moments like this that make this film memorable.
Dark comedies strain gravitas from situations, allowing one to read them in Comic Sans without judgment. But the true test is when such films alter your perception to let you view the state of affairs in a light that makes the morose seem a little less miserable. On that count, this one mocks death and the chest-beating surrounding it.
With sunken eyes and a weary face, Dayanand Kumar (Lalit Behl) has lost his appetite for life. He shares this with his son, Rajiv (Adil Hussain), daughter-in-law (Geetanjali Kulkarni) and granddaughter (Palomi Ghosh) casually over dinner. He pins a recurring dream for his epiphany and decides to spend his last days in Benaras so that “aatma ko moksh prapt ho”. That the holy city by the Ganges offers specialised accommodation for such cases — those who’ve realised ‘it’s their time’ and thus seek soul cleansing, makes this a convenient arrangement.
Reluctantly, Rajiv accompanies his father to Benaras and the two share a modest shelter aptly called Mukti Bhawan. Given that it’s impossible to predict when Dayanand will pop it, Rajiv is anxious as he cannot determine the duration of their stay and how long he’d have to miss work.
Unintentional comedy emerges from the events that follow in Benaras. Reading out obituaries from the newspaper with fellow residents of the shelter, Dayanand criticises the choice of words and even declares that he’d rather write his own. Even while he has accepted the inevitable, his curious demands reveal his uncompromising self. He pushes his plate away, refusing to eat a meal as it lacks salt. He even requests his son to shop for fruits as he wishes to follow the diet of pandits. To this, Rajiv bluntly responds with, “Phal pandit nahin, udyogpati khaate hain.”
This film wouldn’t be the same without Lalit Behl. The actor compartmentalises his character’s various moods and delivers each with the same punch. Flaunting a pencil moustache right out of a Wes Anderson movie, Adil Hussain plays a character much like those in his films too. Adil’s Rajiv concisely reveals his anguish with the world around him but when he does open up, he explodes. Geetanjali Kulkarni laces her concerned and caring daughter-in-law with one who is silently unsettled by her father-in-law’s erratic demands. Navnindra Behl, who plays Vimlaji — one the oldest survivors of Mukti Bhawan — is well cast as she immaculately blends quirky with cute.
Director Shubhashish Bhutiani deserves credit for consistently sticking to the mission of making light of every situation. When Dayanand bows with folded hands in front of the Ganga, the next shot reveals a calm water body with a few boats floating about at a distance — rendering the holy river through a casual filter. Despite a runtime of 99 minutes and 22 seconds, the proceedings don’t seem rushed and much time is invested in establishing the cracks in the father-son relationship and how it evolves when forced into the given construct.
Those hopeful for a rib-tickling comedy will be disappointed. This one is sharp, subtle and subliminally draws humour from misery.