The film begins in a dream. A young Indian boy hears his mother calling and runs through fields and streets in a bid to make it home as quickly as possible. One is immediately reminded of films such as Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray, the young boy’s cheeky grin is full of mischief and knowing. An old man appears, he recognises the young boy as himself and calls out to him, but he is gone. This is the dream of seventy-seven year old Daya, who promptly wakes and comes to the realisation that his time on earth is coming to an end. He must find salvation before his days are done.
Hotel Salvation seems like it should be a sorrowful tale of loss and leaving, it is neither of these however. Shubhashish Bhutiani’s film is very much an exploration of living and the relationships within rather than a mourning for what must pass. There are only a few main characters in the story, which makes it much more intimate and comfortable to follow. We have the aformentioned Daya (Lalit Behl), accompanied by his overworked son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) who embark on the pilgrimage to the holy city Varanasi. Located on the banks of the River Ganges, the duo check into a kind of budget hostel where Daya has fifteen days to attain salvation through meditation and prayer, and within this time he must also pass on to the next life as turnover and demand are particularly high in this establishment. Rajiv’s wife Lata (Geetanjali Kulkarni) and daughter Sunita (Palomi Ghosh) complete the quartet and dutifully support the men’s endeavors while also subtly trying to coerce them home and away from all this nonsense.
Hotel Salvation explores these complex family relationships. Rajiv at first seems quite put upon, as if he is forced to go with his father on this silly expedition. Rajiv takes leave from his job and is constantly constrained by time, wanting to know when he will be able to return to work and how he will meet his targets. Daya is watching the clock in a very different way, but the two learn different lessons from, and through their vastly opposing perspectives. Equally the film is an examination of the relationship between the present and the past, with modernity and tradition. Rajiv is frequently scolded by his father for talking on his mobile phone during mealtimes. Rajiv stares at Daya perplexed as he meditates quietly with the hostel owner Mishraji (Anil K. Rastogi). The character of Sunita also highlights the huge chasm between the limits of Indian tradition and the modern need for personal freedom and independence. Later on in the film it is revealed Sunita has refused to partake in the marriage arranged for her by her parents, an act described as “bringing shame upon the family”, and instead decides to take a job and provide for herself. In one curious scene we watch Sunita with her grandfather as they giggle and take selfies during a religious ceremony, the shoe is then on the other foot as we watch Rajiv scold both Sunita and Daya for their perceived disrespect. These relationships are never really brought to any real resolution, but delicately portrayed and humorously accented throughout the film.
Hotel Salvation is unsurprisingly a visual feast to tuck into. The always brightly coloured interiors and exteriors are joyous to behold and brought to my mind the vivacious colour palettes used by Wes Anderson particularly in The Darjeeling Limited. Coupled with panoramic shots across the Ganges and the winding and bustling Indian streets, the film shines and dances even in the most simply lit scene. The work of the camera is also important to note. Throughout the film Bhutiani’s camera is very much an observer. It sits quietly in a corner and allows the characters to move in and out of frame, letting the action unfold through silence and pauses. One particular shining example of this is an emotional scene with Daya after a friend of his at the hostel passes away. He sits on a wall, looking out into the divine Ganges, he recites a poem written for his friend Vimla. He reads it aloud but really only to himself, he stops and starts and some words are repeated as his voice cracks. All throughout this recitation the camera slowly pans toward him, so slightly and smoothly one barely notices, and then once his notebook is closed pans back again. Not much happens but everything is felt deeply, much like life.
Hotel Salvation is on limited release from Friday 25th August