Shubhashish Bhutiani's Mukti Bhawan is the story of a seventy-seven-year-old man Daya (Lalit Behl), who thinks that his time of death has come. He wants to spend his last days in the holy place of Benaras. Daya's stubbornness forces his obedient son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) to take him there. They check into a place called Mukti Bhawan, a hotel for people who are waiting for their death. The hotel allows people to stay there for a maximum of fifteen days. During their stay, Daya and Rajiv let go of past resentments, form new bonds, and ultimately find salvation in different ways.
In Hinduism, the term mukti, also known as moksha, refers to the freedom from the cycle of death and rebirth. It is believed that the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives and its every rebirth is dependent on how the previous life was lived. And, people must take responsibility for their actions (karma) in their different lives. Mukti means permanent liberation from this cycle and is, thus, called as the ultimate goal. Mukti Bhawan is also essentially about freedom, and the freedom that is portrayed here is not just about moksha, but also the freedom and the desire to live life on your own terms. At some stage in the film, Daya asks Rajiv as to why did he stop writing the poems that he used to when he was a kid. Rajiv replies that it was Daya's stick in school that made him stop writing. Whenever something happened, Rajiv, being the teacher's son, was the one who was punished. As a father, Daya was probably too harsh with his son, forcing his own choices on Rajiv rather than letting him do what he wants. In what is another lifecycle of parenthood, Rajiv, the father, has become like his own father where now he is forcing his own choices on his daughter Sunita. Rajiv's daughter does not really like her fiancé but she is marrying him because Rajiv wants her to do so. Rajiv is initially aghast to know Sunita can drive a scooter, and was not in favor of her having a job. Rajiv carries some resentment in his heart against his father, and is inadvertently meting out the same treatment to his daughter that he got as a kid. He has become a version of his father. In fact, both of them are called ziddi—stubborn. While Daya talks about freedom from this world, the film is as much about Rajiv, where he learns to let go. The time he spends at Mukti Bhawan is also about his own salvation.
The sense of liberation is reiterated at other stages throughout the film. When Sunita and her mother are going back to their home, Daya advises Sunita to do whatever her heart wants. Vahi karna jo tere man ko accha lagta ho. At some other point in the film, Vimla and Daya are taking one of their walks together, and she tells him that death comes at its own will. Vimla tried to do that when she went hungry for many days, but it did not work. She has been waiting for almost eighteen years, but death comes at its own volition. It is as if making the point that if death follows its free will, then, what is stopping the mortal humans to do the things that they want to do. Vahi karna jo tere man ko accha lagta ho. After Vimla dies, Daya writes an obituary for her in which he tells us that Vimla is flying, and has become a free spirit. After Daya's own death, Sunita reads a few lines that he had written in his diary, where he writes a poem titled Mann Ki Karo Hamesha—Do what your heart says—again underscoring the theme of free will and liberation in the film. He wrote, "Karo vahi jo man ko bhaaye, varna jeevan bhar pachtaaye." At an earlier stage, when Daya gets sick, everyone thinks his time had come. During one of the nights he was not well, he and Rajiv have a tearful conversation where he admits he was not a good father to Rajiv. Just after this conversation, Daya gets better on his own the next morning as if this guilt that he had felt was something that was making him sick from inside and he is now free from it. Even the TV show that the residents of Mukti Bhawan watch regularly is named Udan Khatola—A Flying Vehicle.
Mukti Bhawan also tells us that one has to be ready for death. And, by being ready, it does not mean singing devotional songs and eating the food as that of the hermits, rather learning to let go. In an earlier scene, Vimla tells Daya and Rajiv that she has no problems staying alone as she has learnt to let go and is now waiting for death. When Daya fell sick, everyone thought he will die but he did not because he was not ready. Later, Daya learns to let go and asks Rajiv to go back as he felt he was again getting closer to his son. He will have to learn to live without the people, and without the worldly desires that he demanded, else he will never be ready. He has to become an elephant, who when its time of death is near, leaves everyone and goes to the jungle. Daya eventually becomes the elephant.
Use of height
There are many other beautiful touches in Mukti Bhawan. Since death plays an important role in the film, it is quite interesting that Rajiv works in a life insurance company, where he sells policies that benefit people after someone's death, in a way helping people prepare for their death. When a cockroach is found dead, Mishraji picks it up, and says it achieved salvation. Earlier this year, Vikramaditya Motwane's Trapped also had a cockroach that was eaten by Shaurya (Rajkummar Rao). Incidentally, that film also dealt with themes of freedom and entrapment in the modern day urban life.
Safe Life Insurance
There is also a little bit of Masaan and Piku in the film. As parents become older, they almost become like a child, requiring attention and care. They become cantankerous, but it is so difficult to abandon them. In one of his dreams, Rajiv kills his father. But, of course, it is only his sub conscience. As Alain de Botton's The School of Life has taught us, feelings like these are absolutely natural. Rajiv does not act on them; rather he takes the best possible care of his father, with great personal hardship.
I remember the scene from Delhi-6 when Roshan's grandmother starts preparing for her death. Vriksh bole paat se sun patte meri baat, iss jag ki yeh reet hai, ek aavat, se jaat. The tree said to the leaf, "This is the cycle of life; a leaf dies, another is born." Roshan, initially, finds the idea of preparing for death a bit morbid, but then he thinks that humans cannot control how they are born, but at least, they can plan how they are going to go away from earth. Mukti Bhawan also shows this preparation for death, but it is also one of the few films that talks about celebrating death. When Daya dies, he is sent off with a big celebration as he had wanted. Death is certain for every human on this planet, so, then, why not celebrate a life lived well. After all, what greater freedom there is other than a soul achieving its permanent mukti.
Navnindra Behl, who plays Vimla, and who also played a small part in Queen is the wife of Lalit Behl, and mother of Kanu Behl, who directed Titli.
Dialogue of the Day:
"Sapna toh antarman ki aankh hai."
—Mishraji, Mukti Bhawan