Elephants and the art of letting go


LESSONS of the river: Lali Behl is Daya. Photograph courtesy

AS SOON AS the basic premises of this Hindi film (with English subtitles) are revealed within its first few minutes, you know how the story will end, but it is not the plot that is the main magnet of this simply magnificent bit of film. The acting is competent and believable, but that’s also not why you should see it. It is the mix of cinematography, music and editing that grabs you with a wild gentleness and holds you in thrall right until the closing credits. You will laugh out loud, you will weep, even louder, but you will leave with an understanding of beauty and of what it means to die, that is different from what you believed or understood, when you entered the cinema.

Daya (Lalit Behl) is a man in his late 70s. He is a father and a grandfather, living in the house of his son Rajiv (Adil Hussein) and his daughter in law Lata (Geetanjali Kulkarni). And he feels it is time. Time to leave this world. He tells his children that he will do so after he’s completed all the necessary rituals – the buying of a cow, the eating of sweetmeats, the trip to the holy city of Varapanasi on the borders of the Ganges River.

His family are aghast and distraught, disbelieving and uncertain, but they humour the old man in his quest for Mukta Bhawan (Hotel Salvation), which is a pit stop before death. A place stripped down to its basics, it’s an experience which at times horrifies and alienates the well-intentioned son. Blending the tragic hilarity of material poverty with trying to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, the film is about the Eastern precept of following your heart, no matter what the world tells you. And of letting go. It is about the instinct of elephants who leave the community when they leave the world, and it is about the magic of humour in a context where everything else seems to tell you to be sad.

Cinematographers David Huwiler and Michael McSweeney play with light and colour, with breaking up the screen into vertical space and with the sheer magnificence of a series of urban landscapes in a way that makes you gasp at almost each vignette and every panorama or vista as it opens up. Their cinematography is like gems of poetry and while the story of the film itself is ripe with the kind of robust cliché that keeps the world turning, there is no cliché in the photography, which tells of birdsong and death rituals, of hashish and badly cooked Hindi food. It’s about the independent spirit of a woman called Vimla (Navnindra Behl) whose magnificent head and profile is celebrated astonishingly well. It is about how death comes in a phonecall, and about pink walls with zigzags drawn on it. And above all, it is about the dignity of the aged.

  • Hotel Salvation is directed by Shubhashish Bhutiani and features a cast headed by Lalit Behl, Navnindra Behl, Palomi Ghosh, Adil Hussain, Geetanjali Kulkarni and Anil K. Rastogi. It is written by Shubhashish Bhutani and Asad Hussain. Produced by Sanjay Bhutiani, it features creative input by Tajdar Junaid (music), David Huwiler and Michael McSweeney (cinematography), Manas Mittal (editing), Gopal Dey (casting), Avyakta Kapur (production design), Shruti Wadetiwar (costumes) and Akhilesh Acharya (sound). The film is in Hindi with English subtitles. Release date: October 27 2017.


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