Dealing with universal themes relating to generational differences, spirituality and death, Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Hotel Salvation is a light-hearted yet deeply affecting film which is sure to capture the imagination of those fascinated by India as a land of daily contradictions and its infinite dedication to spirituality and faith. Written as well as directed by Bhutiani, the film takes a look at the holy city of Varanasi where people have been coming to die for centuries, prompting a lucrative service industry which was built around this ancient ritual. With hotels and guesthouses which exist for the sole purpose of welcoming those who wish to spend their last days by the holy Ganges, Varanasi has become a place where whole families are uprooted for weeks, and in some cases months, in the hope of being closer to their dying relatives.
Plagued by nightly ominous dreams, septuagenarian Daya Kumar (Lalit Behl) is convinced that he is nearing the end of his natural life and begs his son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) to accompany him to Varanasi where he hopes to reach salvation and be allowed to die in peace. Dismayed by this morbid fascination with death, Rajiv a lowly office clerk, has no option but to drop everything and make the journey with his stubborn father. As they check into the Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation), the pair are met by the owner who informs them that they can only have their room for 15 days, if Daya is not dead by then, the twi will be expected to vacate the premises for the next guests. Greeted by sadhus and chanting monks, Daya is delighted to finally have made it to the holy city, while pragmatic Rajiv has very little faith in the whole process and grows frustrated by the hotel’s squalid conditions and the inane mutterings of its crackpot owner.
Soon Rajiv’s patience start to wear thin as he is berated by his father and criticised for not getting into the spirit of the task at hand. Constantly glued to his smartphone whilst attempting to appease his angry boss and wishing to honour his father’s wishes, Rajiv is caught between ancient tradition and modernity, much like the country itself. Bhutiani approaches this juxtaposition of the two Indias beautifully, if not in the most subtle of ways. As Rajiv is seen constantly fretting on the phone or online, Daya discovers a new lease of life in a friendship he forms with a widow staying at the guesthouse.
While you don’t need to know much about India to appreciate Bhutiani’s film, it is however deeply enlightening to delve into this unique world where death is no longer a taboo but a celebration. Behl and Hussain’s portrayal of two warring generations is genuinely impressive and deeply touching. Bhutiani strikes the right balance between being solemn and light-hearted, whilst managing to never fall into the morbid.
Hotel Salvation is a wonderful look at how tradition can still hold values despite societal and technical advancements in a deeply spiritual country like India. Although the script doesn’t always manage to set the right tone, no one can deny that its heart is definitely in the right place. An enlightening watch.
Hotel Salvation is released on August 25th.