Daya is ready to shuffle off this mortal coil.
The 77-year old patriarch of a middle class Indian family suffers from recurring nightmares. After one such episode, he bluntly declares to his family that he is ready to die. His son Rajiv (Adil Hussain) is puzzled but kind of okay with it, until Daya makes one request - well, more of a demand - he wants to die in Varanasi, the holy city on the Ganges river.
A dutiful son, Rajiv acquiesces to his father's demand. However, his job and his daughter's pending marriage weigh heavy on his mind, so he's secretly hoping for a quick journey there and back.
The father and son arrive at the Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation) in Varanasi and settle in. The hotel is a place expressly designed for people like Daya who are looking to end their earthly journey by the banks of the Ganges, so room turnover is high.
The manager/priest, Mishraji, sets the pair up in a room, but lets Daya and Rajiv know that they have 15 days, then they'll have to make other arrangements. The countdown is on, Daya must acheive enlightenment before the 15th day, or be forced from Salvation. Along the way, father and son learn some things about each other and even more about themselves, and the journey ends up being far more rewarding than the destination.
Writer and director Shubhashish Bhutiani's Hotel Salvation is depiction of an obedient son's attempt to guide his father through his last days is a not the depressing philosophical drudgery that one might expect. Instead the film is filled with laughter, joy, revelations, and a kind of spirit of redemption that the title suggests.
The script is minimal, efficient, and wonderfully adroit in its ability to establish characters and relationships through suggestion, rather than blatant demonstration. The actors in turn are allowed to establish themselves through their mannerisms, and Lalit Behl (Daya) and Hussain are particulalrly exceptional in that regard.
Daya's journey is one of discovery. A widower for years, he meets a woman names Vimla who first came to the hotel with her husband ages before him with the expectation that the couple would die together. When her husband passed away almost immediately, Vimla stayed at the hotel biding her time until it was her turn.
When the two meet early on in Daya's stay, the friendship blossoms, and while never explicitly romantic, their interactions suggest an awakening for both that helps them ease their own transitions. Daya finds life in his new surroundings, he finds surprises, hobbies, and the kind of salvation that God cannot give.
Rajiv's journey, on the other hand, is one of realization and restructuring of priorities. He sees his father as a man, rather than a burden for the first time in a long time. While he's away in Varanasi ushering Daya through to the other side, back home life is going on without him and his inability to manage both sides is a struggle. His job is suffering, his daughter's betrothal is falling apart, and all he can do is beg the local merchants for his father's daily milk. Learning to let go is a struggle, but it's a lesson well learned at the Hotel Salvation.
Hotel Salvation definitely takes on some weighty topics in its search for enlightenment, but thankfully Bhutiani takes on most of the heavy lifting for the audience. We think about life and death, sin and redemption, filial versus financial duty, and the terrible, wonderful bonds of family; and we do so in a wonderfully charming way.
The backdrop of this holiest of Indian cities allows the film to unfold at its own pace, free from the rush and bustle of modern metropolitan India. Varanasi has become a huge tourist draw, but Bhutiani wisely contains his story to the hotel and its immediate surroundings to focus on the story of a man and his father coming to terms with each other and life.
In the end, Hotel Salvation is a celebration of all the things we miss when we stop looking around at just how amazing life can be, and sometimes a reminder is all it takes to remember to smile.