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.



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