His first film Mukti Bhawan has received a special mention for a feature film at the 64th National Awards along with its lead actor Adil Hussain. Acclaimed at various international film festivals, Mukti Bhawan has just released in theatres across India. In an exclusive interview, director Shubhashish Bhutiani opens up to Koimoi…

Mukti Bhawan has received two special mentions at the recently held 64th National Awards. How do you feel?
I am so honoured and thrilled to receive this award! It’s a film so close to my heart and I am so glad that Adil (Hussain) has been recognised. He is one of India’s best actors. It is such a wonderful coincidence that we have received this honour on the day of the film’s release!

What is the film about?
It’s the story of a son who has to bring his father to a hotel where people check in to die. Along with this, he has to juggle the logistics of his daily life, his wife, daughter, his job etc. It’s a relationship film about a family.

Shubhashish Bhutiani: Mukti Bhawan is a unique space and is also one of the main characters of the movie
Shubhashish Bhutiani: Mukti Bhawan is a unique space and is also one of the main characters of the movie

What inspired you to make this film?
In Varanasi, there is a belief that if you die there you’ll attain mukti, so many people go there to die and get mukti. But during earlier times, they had no place to live so people started making these hotels or bhawans where you can check in and wait to die. I have visited several such places. One particular hotel had a rule that if you don’t die in 15 days, you’ll go back home. That idea made me laugh initially because it was a unique, crazy idea! But then I started talking to people and reading up on this place. I read a story about a son who had to bring his father there to die. The story really touched me.

So can we call it a hospice?
See we can give it different names but Mukti Bhawan is Mukti Bhawan. It’s a unique space and it is one of the main characters of the movie. There are other similar hotels where you don’t have a deadline of 15 days, where you can stay for months.

When you went to Varanasi, did you actually come across someone who has come to die?
Yes, a lot of them. Some of them also couldn’t even speak because they were literally counting their last few days. So I spoke to their family members who were accompanying them. Sometimes it is really sad because some people leave their parents there and go back home.

If you were faced with a similar situation in real life, how would you react?
I don’t know what I would do! I think how I would react is how the various characters in my movie react. (Laughs) My various possible reactions are all in the movie through the characters.

A still from Mukti Bhawan
A still from Mukti Bhawan

Does a person really get this feeling that I am going to die?
Some people do. I believe it can be true because, for some, it actually happens, they get that intuition. But I am sure that among those who go there to die, some people just want to leave home. There may be various reasons behind that.

Did you select the cast yourself?
We had a casting director named Gopal Dey who worked very hard with our team to cast the right faces. This was Gopal’s first film too. I wanted a casting director who will go to Varanasi, spend time there and make an effort to find the right actors. He auditioned many people from Mumbai, Delhi, Varanasi and Lucknow until we found the right actors for the cast.

Why did you choose a topic like this?
I thought it would be a unique idea to make a film based on father-son relationship. I thought the story would be interesting and unique for the Indian audience. This is a story worth sharing. Also, there is a deep humanity into the film. It’s about family love. The characters of the film go through various situations which are sometimes absurd or funny. For instance, before you go to die, you have to donate a cow, it’s called ‘gau daan’. I had never heard about this before and I thought what are these amazing rituals that we have! These moments of humour and warmth of the story and also to make a film in a city like Varanasi excited me. It’s a very human story. While writing the script, I felt I am living it! Sometimes I would laugh and sometimes I’d be down for an entire day. I felt emotionally very connected to it.

The film has been acclaimed at various international film festivals. It received a standing ovation at the Venice International Film Festival. What are your expectations from the Indian audience?
I can’t have expectations because I don’t think we can predict what is going to happen. I am kind of excited to see what happens. But I feel people will enjoy the film if they watch it together with their families. The film will make people think about their life, their own parents, their problems and they’ll sometimes smile or laugh. People will certainly be able to relate to all the characters in the film. I hope the audience emotionally connects to it. Also, the exciting part is that they’ll get to see something new about their own culture.

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