Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation) explores a new perspective on death.  The film, which has received rave reviews in festivals across the globe, revolves around a father-son relationship in a simple yet profound manner. While actor Lalit Behl known for his vast experience across several mediums plays the father, the very versatile Adil Hussain plays the son. Geetanjali Kulkarni who was greatly appreciated for her role in Court plays Hussain’s wife.

We had the pleasure of catching up with the prolific cast where each of the actors agreed that, in its own way, the film has brought in a new perspective for them. Elaborating more about their character, the challenges they faced and the evolution of the father-son relationship, the trio had a lot to share.

Adil Hussain

Adil Hussain with Lalit Behl in Mukti Bhawan

How would you define the dynamics between the father-son in this film? How does the relationship evolve through the film?

Like my relationship was with my father (laughs). It is a strained relationship with lots of misunderstandings, confusion, accusations and grudges. There are unresolved, un-vocalized complains and grudges and it is way more complex than I can explain. It is a tense and unsettled relationship and the director has masterfully brought these strong headed characters into such proximity where they cannot but face each other. They have to confront and counter the devils within themselves, which is beautiful.

As the film progress, the relationship between the father and son does evolve, but it does take time and that is the beauty of the script, it deals with tiny little things. There are tiny little realizations; it is like a small door opening from one heart to another, which as an evolution process is a great step because it shows that you can reconcile a little bit, and that in the end, it is not as bad as you thought it is.

Were you able to relate to the character or did you face any difficulties playing Rajiv?

I could completely relate to the character, this is my character and my relationship with my Dad. He didn’t want me to become an actor. The characters are archetypes; all the qualities of fathers in the world and most of the qualities of all the sons are put together into these two characters. The characters are that generic in a way, so it’s not just me, but most people who watch the movie will be able to relate to the characters.

Was there a moment or aspects of the film that you found challenging and how did director Shubhashish Bhutiani help you overcome them? 

There were various situations where I wasn’t sure if it will work or no. During those times, this 24-year-old director would come in and humbly suggest that we could do a particular scene or portray a particular emotion in another way.  This wasn’t just limited to one situation, but several times throughout the shoot he would come up with brilliant and yet simple ways to resolve the problem.

Geetanjali Kulkarni

Geetanjali Kulkarni (Second from Right) in Mukti Bhawan

What was it about the film that convinced you to be a part of Mukti Bhawan?

I loved the story from the very start and the reason for it was that the film is about death, it is about the process of death and when Shubhashish came with the story, it was just a year after my father had passed away. My father used to stay with me so I have seen that process and the relationship between a daughter and father is same as father and son. We had lots of fights, but there was a lot of love and bonding. The story of Mukti Bhawan was a very emotional story for me and that is why I said yes. I liked Shubhashish’s way of telling the story; the way he had written the script was very emotional.

So were there qualities of the character that you could relate to? 

It’s a character who is very practical, she is the one who runs the family and takes the decisions. While she is practical, her husband is very emotional, therefore, she is trying to get everybody together. She wants everybody to talk and sort things out and keep moving on in life. She is someone who believes that life has to be lived practically, we can’t be dreaming about things to happen. Lata (her character) is completely opposite to me; I am a dreamer by nature. But that is why I liked playing the role, she is a doer and I am dreamer.

You have an extensive career in theater, does that make it easier to act in front of the camera?

Certain aspects are similar; when I get the character I learn the lines and form the characterization. But stage is an actor’s medium, so as an actor you own the space. A film, on the other hand, is a director’s medium where I need to go by his vision. I am in his or her hands so I don’t know what the end result is going to be. Acting in films is more technical, but I am not a very crafty person, I am instinctive, but I hope I get that technique of acting in front of the camera also.

As of now, I prefer theater because it has given me roles which are amazing, for example, Piya Behrupiya where I play a boy. I am doing a play called Gajab Kahani (I had done that play in Marathi and now it’s coming in Hindi) where I am playing an elephant. Theater gives me various kinds of roles to play, but getting into cinema is difficult for because I am not someone who can go after directors and casting directors. That doesn’t leave me with too many avenues, so I pick roles from whatever comes my way.

Lalit Behl

Lalit Behl in a still from Mukti Bhawan

Lalit Behl with Adil Hussain in a still from Mukti Bhawan

You played the patriarch of the film in Titli and are playing a father in Mukti Bhawan too. How different are the two characters?

Though I was playing the role of the father in both the films, the characters are extremely different. The story of Titli revolves around a family that is involved in crime and there I play the head of the family. He doesn’t say much, but silently heads and organizes the criminal family. On the other hand, in Mukti Bhawan I play the role of Daya who is a retired teacher, but his ambition was to become a poet, so in his own way, he would write once in a while about his own frustrations and happiness. He has a son, a daughter-in-law and a grand daughter who is getting married. He shares a tense relationship with his son; it is not an open relationship, there is a distance between them. Daya is a person who appears to be stern, but from the inside he is a poet and a soft person. Daya’s character has many layers, which open little by little in the film.

Was it easy to relate to the role or were there aspects of the character that you did not relate to?

I have a son so I could absolutely relate to the character. In fact, I will say that after playing this character, even at this age, new chapters in my life have opened up. Through the film I understood the father-son relationship with a new perspective. I feel educated after doing this film; I was able to understand myself in a new manner.

Given your vast experience, do you follow a process to get into a character? 

There is a process, but there is the script as well. Initially, we first interact with the script then we create an outer sketch of the character in our mind. Then we put in more details by adding the background that might not be available in the script, so we create and imagine it. Then there are discussions with the director, where we consult with him/her to see if the image that is created is similar to the their vision. A director has his/her own ideas and so does the actor and through this discussion the sketch is repainted. Through this methodology we work and outwardly shape a character.

But even that image is not final, that is a reference character because when you go in front of the camera and meet your co-actors, things can change. The way your character reacts to your co-actors also changes the perception. There is a lot of discussion and improvisation which can reshape the perception of the character. In the end, a character emerges, which then goes to the editing room where it is again peeled and molded and the director then polishes and creates the character.

It is a beautiful process and because I have a theater background we have worked like this since the start. We take personal experiences and inspiration from people around us and combine everything to build a character, which we then present to the audience.