Diff: Hotel Salvation tells the story of a father and son on the road to reconciliation
Director Shubhashish Bhutiani first came to my attention in 2014 when the jury of the 2014 London Indian Film Festival, of which I was a part, awarded his racial drama Kush the Satyajit Ray Foundation Short Film Prize. It was also shortlisted for an Oscar.
Bhutiani’s debut feature, Hotel Salvation – which has its regional premiere tonight as part of the Dubai International Film Festival – was made under the auspices of the Biennale College, which tutors and mentors filmmakers to produce their first or second film. It awards at least three projects a grant of €150,000 (Dh582,000) to make a film that will debut at the prestigious Venice Film Festival.
At this year’s festival, Hotel Salvation won the Prix Enrico Fulchignoni, which is awarded by Unesco to the film that best represents the values of peace and human rights.
The movie is in part a father-and-son road journey, in which Rajiv (Adil Hussain, Life of Pi and Kaminey), is forced by circumstances to reconnect with his elderly father, Daya (Lalit Behl), who has announced a desire to make a final pilgrimage to Varanasi. Before he dies, Daya wants to visit Hotel Salvation, a sacred, hospice-like retreat where the elderly spend their last days and their sins can be washed away. With its cast of dysfunctional elderly residents, it is hard not to draw a comparison with The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
“I feel that many of the young filmmakers making their first or second film, before they enter the commercial space, come up with good ideas,” says Hussain. “I’m a sucker for a good script and role. That’s why most of the films I have done have been first films. This happens because I don’t have an agent and so most of my work comes through social media, being approached directly by filmmakers.”
Hussain agreed to appear in Hotel Salvation before he even read the script.
“I take a lot of my roles on intuition,” he says. “I just read the synopsis: father-and-son story, go to Benares, it’s a strange relationship. That made complete sense to me.”
Why would a 25-year-old emerging filmmaker want to make a film about ageing and death?
“The story never started to me as a film,” says Bhutiani. “It started with finding out about these hotels. It came from a place of fascination that something like these hotels can exist in my country [India] and I have no idea about them. It’s so quirky and funny. I thought I have to go and see this place.”
When Bhutiani made his own pilgrimage to the banks of the river Ganges, his vision for the movie soon emerged.
He also heard a story that moved him about a son who was unable to just leave his father at the hotel.
“I think once something inspires me, I want to write, and in that process it then morphs into something personal to me,” he says. “I’m a big fan of travel stories. People start to transform when they leave their habitat.”
• Hotel Salvation is screening at Vox Mall of the Emirates on Monday, December 12 at 9.45pm and Wednesday, December 14 at 2pm. Tickets cost Dh35