Director Shubhashish Bhutiani's critically-acclaimed film Hotel Salvation is a bittersweet comedy-drama about of a dying father's cross-country trip with his son to a kind of sacred hospice in India where the elderly can have their sins absolved in their final days.
It had its regional premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival in December, but if you missed it there is another chance to catch it, courtesy of Vox Cinemas' new Diff365 programme.
The film has continued to tour the international festival circuit since the Dubai screening, and actor Adil Hussain (Life of Pi) has been touched by how it has been received.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride because of the kind of places it’s been to,” he says. “First Venice, then Dubai, then Gothenburg, then LA, New York, Sydney, Belgium and France. It’s been all over and I’ve been so moved by the reactions of audiences across continents.
“I remember one day when I was shooting a Norwegian film in Oslo. We had a four-day gap in shooting and I had a day free to attend the Gothenburg festival and took some of the crew with me to the film. It was a 10am screening and it was minus-three degrees – but they reluctantly agreed to brave the cold and come.”
After the screening, the crew members were nowhere to be found. When Hussain finally tracked them down, they were very quiet and he feared the worst about their opinions of his film.
“I very gingerly approached one of them, this huge six-and-a-half-foot tall German friend, and asked what he’d thought of the film – and he said, ‘I’d like to call my dad right now’,” says the actor. “That was one of the most touching compliments I’ve had.”
The film has inspired similar reactions in audiences and critics around the world. Hussain believes this is in no small part due to the universal themes that transcend its Indian setting.
“The relationship between father and son is such an issue across the globe,” he says. “These two characters in our film are like the culmination of all the fathers and sons in the world, all those tensions. I became a father a few years ago and realised when my son was born that all the attention that had been on me was suddenly on him.”
Hussain’s experience of fatherhood has clearly been thought-provoking for him.
“It’s very complex. All those jealousies that you’re really not supposed to feel, you end up feeling,” he says.
“All the focus is on this child and you, as the main patriarch – it’s very difficult to accept that for a lot of people. We’ve evolved so far in terms of equality, but that’s still very difficult to accept. There’s a tension.
“I don’t know – I’m not a psychologist to analyse that – but from my layman’s perspective that tension, between father and son, is a universal phenomenon and it seems to resonate with everyone that’s seen the film across the continents.”
Hussain is a long-time supporter, as well as star, of underground cinema. He is a lifetime member of Aligarh Muslim University’s film club and the Asian Academy’s International Film and Television Club. As such he is clearly excited about Diff and Vox’s new partnership to showcase indie cinema all year round.
The series launched two weeks ago with British director Ken Loach's acclaimed social drama I, Daniel Blake.
"I feel really privileged [for Hotel Salvation to be part of Diff365]," he says.
“I wish everybody would follow this model in every country. So often with festivals and so on, people find out about a film too late and don’t get another chance to see it, so this is an initiative that should be copied by all the festivals in the world.
“It would be great for all those films that get made and get screened at some festivals, then go to Netflix and get lost. I haven’t heard of any other festivals that have done this, and it sounds great.”
Hussain adds that the initiative is particularly important in regions such as the Middle East, where blockbuster western multiplex fare tends to dominate schedules.
“Of course in Europe you may have your art-house cinemas, but in India, South-East Asia, the Gulf countries, I really think programmes like this can help people evolve, as a person, as a cinema-goer, as a film viewer – it gives them life skills.”
• Hotel Salvation is showing at Vox Mall of the Emirates in Dubai until May 17. Visit uae.voxcinemas.com