Mukti Bhavan – a movie everyone must watch.


I am not a movie buff, but have always enjoyed good cinema. While I can appreciate many of the finer points, I don’t understand enough about the process or the final product to comment on the finer points of a particular movie. But I do believe that cinema has a larger role beyond entertainment – as a recorder of contemporary society and for its influence on the society it portrays. And in this context,  the recently released  ‘Mukti Bhawan” is a movie that fulfills both roles, ably and responsibly.

As the name suggests, the action or the lack of it, takes place in a run down Varanasi guest house for the elderly, waiting for mukti – from what else but LIFE? How can you watch 100 minutes of such a morbid subject as death, you my ask? And that is what is so right about the movie – while it maybe  slow at times and even funny at others, it is not morbid. It deals with death, just as it we all should – as the the inevitable end to life itself, another event in the passage of time, that is final for the concerned individual, personal for the immediate family and friends and of variable consequence to the larger society.

The movie  deals gently and deftly with the strained communication between the  father (who insists on going to Varanasi to await his turn) and  the son, whose sense of filial  responsibility makes him accompany the father, albeit unenthusiastically. The son is restless  being away from his work yet tied to it through the umbilical cord of the cell phone. The slow thaw that comes through close and constant association is warm and touching. The host of characters that fill the small gaps, such as the pragmatic manager of the guest house (ably played by an old friend, Dr Anil Rastogi), the fellow guests etc. are etched with affection and authenticity. The bond with the grand daughter is warm and spontaneous. Overall, it could be any of our families out there…..and it is not so much the preparedness of the protagonist for his own end, but how the experience prepares the family for that end.

This is not, however, the way we are currently dealing with death. Almost every passing is not a gentle fading away, but the end of a harrowing experience in the corridors of an Intensive Care Unit. Recent statistics from the US (which may not be very different for urban middle class India) shows that >50% of the elderly die in  the ICU.  Of course, every premature death, is a tragedy and every attempt should be made to save young lives. But, for the elderly the same norms should not hold and everyone concerned needs to accept and come to terms with that.

“Threescore and ten I can remember well:
Within the volume of which time I have seen
Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night
Hath trifled former knowings.”   from Hamlet

Shakespeare probably borrowed this time frame  from the Bible (Psalms 90)  – “The days of our years are threescore years and ten”. Our own scriptures, while not prescribing a time frame, urge us to renounce worldly matters and embrace destiny.

As I reach the end of the time allotted to me, and ponder on a balance sheet of the life gone by, I do feel that it is in the positive (in my own estimate, of course). I trust that  whatever more is given to me as the bonus years, I will face with equanimity. And I would urge everyone, both young and old, to see this delightful piece of cinema.



Culture, tradition, modernism, exploitation



Each one of us has so many memories stored deep within us.  And this article (please read the article) set some bells ringing in my head.

I spent a year  in my nanihaal, a village in the heartland of Kuttanad, the area known as the Kerala backwaters. The area has exploded as a favored tourist destination and is now bustling with resorts, fancy cruise boats etc.  But I am talking of a time when I was all of 7-8 years of age. Childhood memories are a strange bag of tricks – somethings which are so innocuous stand out so vividly, while the important things seem to be hazy! What decides how and what the brain retains is something that we have yet to understand.

I remember my the family house in vivid detail (and quite accurately, as I saw on a recent visit to the house in  2010), the arrangement of the houses in the village, the temple and much more. I also remember many details of the every day life – carrying thairu- shatham (curd-rice) in a stainless steel (new at the time) container for school lunch, dinner by petromax (as electricity was yet to reach), the various temple festivals etc.

And among these, I remember going with my Mama (who had to put up a fight at home to take me along) to a festival, where the highlight was the men dancing frantically like ‘people possessed’ with iron hooks through the small of their backs!! I remember the bright lights provided by large flaming torches (made of cloth dipped in oil, in the pre-kerosene days), the long shadows it threw, the loud noise of the temple drums and all round frenzy – all hazy but clear. I can also feel, even now, part of  the sense of awe and fear I must have felt as a young child!

But then life moved on, I moved to the nations’s capital – and life unfolded in what would be considered a routine manner. But how compartmentalized and sheltered this middle class life is! I was probably too young to see the occasion as anything beyond the spectacle it was. But this article awakened me to the many layers under the spectacle, and little seems to have changed in the six decades since my childhood! What is tradition? And does ‘tradition’ justify exploitation? Can there be no middle path?

If we cannot shake of the prejudices that seem to be so much a part of so many of us, can we really claim to have progressed. There has been a shift in the global language of progress, from pure economic indicators (GDP, growth rate and the like) to the human development index or HDI, which incorporates life expectancy (as an indicator of the health status), education (expected years schooling for school-age children and average years of schooling in the adult population) and  income  (measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita). And while India boasts of its robust growth rate, it performs poorly in the  HDI (130 in 2016) . And would fare even poorer I think if an index of the state of prejudices (I am not sure how it can be measured) within the society is also added!!