Hotel Salvation

 

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A father/son relationship is central to this Indian film which ignores current cinema trends.

 
hotel salvation movie
  

The city of Varanasi on the Ganges provides the central setting for this highly regarded Indian film about a 77-year-old widower, Daya played by Lalit Behl, who, sensing that death is imminent, insists on his accountant son, Rajiv (Adil Hussain), taking him there. Varanasi - or Benares as it is also known - is a place to which devout Hindus travel on pilgrimage. But more than that it is famed for establishments like this film’s Hotel Salvation where the faithful who believe that they have not long to live can book in to begin what they consciously think of as the process of death. When death does indeed come, it is regarded as a freedom and a salvation and therefore a cause of celebration rather than mourning.

 

This is a gentle, calm and unhurried film that could hardly be more Indian in character and it is remarkable that it is a first feature by a writer/director, Shubhashish Bhutiani who is only 26 years old. Its appeal outside of India (it has won awards in Venice and New York) partly stems from the universality of its themes: the sometimes uneasy relationship between a demanding father and his son, the extent to which duty to a parent should be allowed to take over a son’s life and, of course, the question of how we respond to the fact that all of us will die. If the last issue is the most central here, that does not mean that the film is grim and downbeat because Bhutiani takes pains to introduce realistic touches of humour as part of the flavour of the piece.

 

The cast all do well, not least Navnindra Behl in a supporting role as another guest at the Hotel Salvation. Audiences responsive to the quiet tone and atmosphere may well relish this film. That's so even though the writing arguably plays down rather too much the potentially dramatic conflicts and their resolutions (it is not just Daya sucking away Rajiv’s own life but a sudden revolt against an arranged marriage by Rajiv’s daughter Sunita played by Palomi Ghosh). The tensions between a father and son journeying to Mecca in Le Grand Voyage (2004) were more sharply investigated and thus more to my personal taste. Also I have to say that the Hindu beliefs that play such a strong role here kept me at a distance rather than making me understand and therefore share a wholly different view of human existence as was achieved by Naomi Kawase in the shockingly undervalued Still the Water (2014). But, even in such minor matters as Tajdar Junaid’s discreet music score, Hotel Salvation retains its own character and defies current trends in cinema. It is undoubtedly welcome and it will speak to some viewers more directly and more strongly than it did to me. I should just add that the running time below includes a very, very short film from 1899 released with Hotel Salvation because it enables the audience to glimpse Varanasi as it was over a century ago.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Adil Hussain, Lalit Behl, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Palomi Ghosh, Navnindra Behl, Anil K. Rastogi.

 

Dir Shubhashish Bhutiani, Pro Sanjay Bhutiani, Sajida Sharma and Shubhashish Bhutiani, Screenplay Shubashish Bhutiani with Asad Hussain, Ph Michael McSweeney and David Huwiler, Pro Des Avyakta Kapur, Ed Manas Mittal, Music Tajdar Junaid, Costumes Shruti Weditwar.

 

Red Carpet Moving Pictures/La Biennale di Venezia/MiBACT- BFI Distribution.
102 mins. India. 2016. Rel: 25 August 2017. Cert. PG.