3 March 2018



'You used to write such innocent poetry!'

There's a funny coincidence here, believe it or not, and naturally I can't not share it with ye, lol, and please excuse my use of the double negative. I watched this film on the second of March, during the Big Snow Of 2018, masterminded entirely by the big bread companies of Ireland so that they'd sell more bread. 

At least, that's how it seems to the folks on the ground who can't seem to track down a loaf of sliced pan for love nor money. There's even talk of its becoming a black market commodity, like in the war. 

I'll trade you fifty pairs of nylon stockings, a bag of oranges and a signed photo of Hitler for that loaf of bread. It's all I've got, I swear! And it's a lovely picture too, it's one of the few where he's actually smiling with an open mouth. Very rare, those are.

Anyway, here's the aforementioned coincidence. The second of March 2016 is the date when the star of this film, an old Indian man called Daya, checks into the titular Hotel Salvation. Let me try to explain what this Hotel Salvation, both the hotel and the concept, is all about.

See, according to a Hindu belief, there's a very holy city in India called Varanasi. This much is completely true. Anyone who dies there gains automatic salvation and acceptance into their Heaven. Because so many people come to this holy city specifically to die every year, death is now big business there, as you can imagine.

Hotels and guesthouses have sprung up like mushrooms there. Tourists visit as well as the people who think their number's up, and they all have to be accommodated, fed, transported around the place and, to a certain degree, entertained.

If you're lucky enough to be cremated there, you're actually being cremated in the most sacred place a Hindu can be cremated, so you can imagine how popular a spot it would be for the folks anxious to get into Heaven. And let's face it, which of us isn't?

I'd gladly pay a few quid weekly while here on Earth into a getting-into-Heaven type of insurance fund, guaranteeing me acceptance into a nice cushy Afterlife. Pay extra to wipe out your sins? Why not? Here's a couple-a extra fifties. Buy yourself something nice...!

Anyway, the protagonist here is the seventy-seven-year-old patriarch Daya, a poet and author who's having premonitions of his own demise in his dreams, and 'dreams are the eye of your inner subconscious,' so he wisely knows to pay attention to them.

He lives with his son Rajiv, an harassed accountant, Rajiv's complaining wife Lata and their beautiful and talented daughter Sunita. Daya pesters Rajiv to take him on this sacred pilgrimage to Varanasi, and Rajiv has little choice but to agree, as his filial duty is meant to come before his own happiness. 

That's the way to do it. I must try that special brand of emotional blackmail on my own kids, see if it gets me anywhere. 'Mom, I'm leaving to travel the world!' 'Sorry son, it's your filial duty to stay here and look after me till I die, let me just relieve you of that passport, you won't be needing it just for Tesco and the post office...!' Can't see it working, myself.

One cramped and bumpy taxi-ride later, father and son are in Varanasi, where Daya takes possession of a room in a hostel for fifteen days for both of them. Your stay is ostensibly for just a fortnight but you can of course stay for longer if you pay the money and also take on another name every fortnight, so it always looks like different people are staying there and not just the same people for twenty years.

Mishraji, the grizzled and infinitely practically-minded little owner of the Hotel Salvation, tells the pair that they must clean their own room and cook their own food. Meat and alcohol are verboten, but marijuana and opium are encouraged. Try any of the back alleys, lads...!

The two lads don't have to do much cooking for themselves as Daya immediately makes friends with a woman in his age bracket called Vimla. She's a widow who's lived in the Hotel Salvation ever since she came there with her husband a whopping eighteen years ago.

Vimla is a lovely woman but I don't think she should have buried herself in the Hotel of Waiting-For-Death for the best part of two decades, waiting to rejoin her old man in the afterlife. Think of all the things she could have done with that precious time!

She could have travelled the world, written a bestselling series of novels about a lady
private eye who specialised in marital strife and kept parrots in her spare time, or even buried two, three or even four more husbands in that time. Husbands don't last that long. They're always getting tired easily from all the sex and the endless forking over of money hand-over-fist to demanding wives. And riding someone to death is not a crime, ladies. I think...

No, I don't at all approve of Vimla living in that one room and quietly waiting for the Grim Reaper just like Quee-Queg in MOBY DICK. Use your time, woman! You only get one life. By all means, check in to the Hotel California, I mean Salvation, when you honestly feel like you're breathing your last but wives are no longer required to be buried alive or burned with their hubbies. Get out and live, girl.

Daya takes to life in the Hotel Salvation like a duck to water. He watches the popular soap opera FLYING SAUCER and gabs with the other residents while poor stressed Rajiv gets angry phone calls from his boss in the office who resents his employee taking time off for, seemingly, no good reason. 

It's hard to explain to a yelling boss that you have to wait for your father to die before you can come back to work when there's no evidence from anywhere to suggest that the old man is even unwell, never mind shuffling off his mortal coil. He might conceivably live for another twenty years or so. 

People from India are always living to ridiculous ages. Must be all the clean living, all the no meat, no booze and whatever else. They definitely have sex, as their population is healthy enough. It must be the no booze and no meat that helps 'em to live so long.

Rajiv loses a client while he's in the Hotel Salvation waiting for his Pops to kick the bucket, plus his wife Lata is giving him stick about swanning off on a 'holiday' while she's stuck at home minding the house. 

Rajiv can assure her till the cows come home that all he wants is to be at home attending to his job but you know what wives are like, lol. They wouldn't believe a word out of their husband's mouth if Jesus Christ himself climbed down off the cross and testified as to the poor man's veracity. Saviour totally be like: 'Dudes, I'm actually kind of in the middle of something here, can't you guys just work this out between yourselves?'

Father and son do get to spend some much-needed quiet talking time together at the Hotel Salvation, however. When Dad asks Rajiv how comes he never writes poetry any more, he's shocked when Rajiv reminds his father that he beat all that out of him when Rajiv was a kid. It sounds like a low point in their relationship that was never adequately dealt with, if at all.

When Lata and Sunita come to Varanasi to spend some time with the two men, the entire family forgets the strains and stresses of shitty everyday life for a while and just whole-heartedly enjoys each others' company for once. There are some wonderful scenes as they take in some of the unforgettable sights and sounds of the magical city of Varanasi.

Even when the Mum and daughter return home, there's more drama for Rajiv as it is revealed that Sunita doesn't want to go ahead with the marriage her parents have arranged for her. Rajiv is extremely miffed to discover that his old Dad is all in favour of Sunita's living her own life the way she wants to. Since when was Daya so all-fired liberal? You can bet your bottom dollar that he wasn't this liberal when Rajiv was growing up.

That's the way, isn't it, though? People get mellower and less uptight as they get older. That's why it's normally the grandparents these days, not the parents, who are the ones dishing out the sweets and treats and the parents are the ones getting antsy about it.

When Rajiv realises that his Dad has been encouraging Sunita to ride a scooter, of all the dangerous and unladylike things, it dawns on him slowly that his old man has a better relationship with Sunita than he, Rajiv, her own Dad, does.

Has he been too uptight with her, too stuffy, too hardline? Does he work too hard, not spend enough time with his family? He has plenty of time to ponder these things while he's stuck in Varanasi, waiting for his father to 'attain salvation,' as they call it there.

It's hard to imagine that this perfect, polished film, that captures so brilliantly the human relationship with life and death, was made by a director who's only twenty-six-years-old. The film, which has been described as being on a par with Yasujiro Ozu's marvellous TOKYO STORY, is out on Blu-Ray and DVD now, with a fantastic host of extra features, from the British Film Institute.

There's some great black humour in it but nothing jars, if you know what I mean. Not a single extraneous word is used and there's nothing garish or inappropriate in it. It's just a perfect debut feature film from a guy who's clearly wise beyond his years. 

Watch it. It'll warm the cockles of your heart during this season of snow and bread shortages. Which some people still say was engineered by the big bread companies, so be warned. They're clearly watching us...

BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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