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Dissecting Movies: Mukti Bhawan – A journey that defines salvation.

Aakash Mishra

Mukti Bhawan tells the story of a 77-year-old Dayanand (Lalit Behl) who wishes to attain salvation in the ghats of Varanasi. His son Rajiv accompanies him, leaving his work and the arrangements of his daughter’s wedding. Now, first of all, the concept of mukti has various interpretations in Hinduism alone. But, the widely popular notion which even this film addresses is – the liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth. Quite later in the film, the son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) asks his father “ Why do you think your time has come?” He replies “ It’s just a feeling, I am tired of this world now.” If you look closely enough, you can find that the film intentionally or unintentionally addresses a set of definitions regarded to explain the concept of Mukti, over the course of history. Major Spoilers ahead, I will suggest that you watch the film then read this.

  1. Indian traditions emphasizing Mukti as epistemological transformation.

Various Indian traditions have emphasized that liberation can be attained while on earth. They depict that liberation is a concrete, ethical action within the world. This liberation is an epistemological change that allows one to see the truth and reality behind the fog of ignorance. Now, Dayanand isn’t very open-minded from the start, he has some moral values, he is stubborn and strict because we come to know in the early days he made Rajiv get away from the world of poetry, saying that it wasn’t right for him. But in this phase of life, we see him following an opposite ideology. When his granddaughter visits him in the ghats of Varanasi, he tells her in different ways to follow her heart and do whatever she feels like doing. Later in the film, we see Sunita (granddaughter) deciding not to marry and take up a job. You can easily say that she was inspired by the ideas constantly said to her in the last meeting she had with her grandfather. Dayanand even apologized to his son for stopping him to write poetry, one day when he was severely ill and it almost looked like he was going to die.

The previous Dayanand before coming to the ghats would have never suggested something that would jeopardize his family’s name in the society or even he would have regarded the idea of apologizing to his son as something which is against the stand of a common Indian father. But, he chooses to follow an idea that is concrete, ethical and right in every way. Even if you look the part where Vimla, a widow who has been living in the ghats for eighteen years, what changes suddenly is that she dies, it might be said that her time might have come but it can also be said that she compassionately helped in repairing the broken soul of Dayanand, thus a final right act helped in liberating her soul.

  1. Klaus Klostermaier’s opinion on Mukti

German-Canadian scholar Klaus Klostermaier implies Moksha( a synonym for Mukti) as a setting free of hitherto fettered faculties, a removing of obstacles to an unrestricted life, allowing a person to be more truly a person in the full sense, the concept presumes unused human potential of creativity, compassion, and understanding which had been blocked and shut out.  Even Nietschze regards the art of creating as a form of the great salvation. In the movie, we see, Dayanand writing thought-provoking, emotional obituaries for a friend who left him midway in his journey of salvation. We even see a new Dayanand who is compassionate enough to love his son, Rajiv, for who he is. One of the most emotional scenes of the film is Dayanand asking for forgiveness for not letting Rajiv’s poetry bloom. In fact, towards the end when Rajiv is going back home, leaving behind all the regressive traits of masculinity and fatherhood, we see them both hugging each other.

  1. Daniel Ingalls opinion of Mukti followed by many schools of Hinduism

Daniel Henry Ingalls was the Wales Professor of Sanskrit at Harvard University, according to him various schools of Hinduism, saw Mukti as a state of perfection. The concept was seen as a natural aim beyond dharma. Mukti in ancient literature of Hinduism is seen achievable by the same techniques that need to be followed to practice dharma. Self-discipline is the path to dharma. That’s why we see, Dayanand following a consistent routine of waking up, doing yoga, interacting with fellow ‘mukti-mates’ in the hotel and watching the show of a ‘flying saucer’.

  1. Nirvana described by Buddhism.

The term Mukti is uncommon in Buddhist texts but an equivalent term is vimukti meaning ‘release’, which in turn gives birth to the term Nirvana. Nirvana has been described in Buddhist texts in a manner similar to other Indian religions, as the state of complete liberation, enlightenment, highest happiness, fearlessness, permanence, and non-dependant origination. During the first fifteen days of coming to Mukti Bhawan, we see Dayanand is living a completely dependent life. He is dependent on his son for cooking and providing basic necessities, he makes a new friend and kind of becomes dependant on her for his happiness as when she dies we see him writing an emotional letter where he addresses buying two glasses of Lassi, one for him and another for his friend, Vimla. That’s why when she leaves the world he decides to live alone and even tells his son to go back to home, thus indicating his realization to the actual sense of Nirvana and eventually liberating himself from all the worldly ties.

Subashish Bhutiani ‘s beautiful writing and direction makes Mukti Bhawan, not just a journey of exploring the complexities of the father-son relationship which is resentful at first but soon a trip to Varanasi makes them realize their lost love for each other. Moreover, it becomes a narrative that blends various philosophies on salvation and thus presents a mixture of unique salvation in its own way. With an amazing music score of Tajdar Junaid and brilliant cinematography by David Huwiler and Michael McSweeney, especially the scene where the film pauses and Rajiv dreadfully looks at the sight of how the bodies where getting burned, imagining that his father might be the next one. At last, Asad Hussain’s thought-provoking poetry can be seen as salvation itself. We as human beings can only speculate what is salvation and thus what’s better salvation than following your heart?

” Do what your heart says,

for the heart alone is the truth

and the rest is an illusion.

do what your heart says

or else suffer for the whole life.”

Hotel Salvation is currently available to stream on MUBI Library and Disney+Hotstar.

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