This is not about the representation of an old woman in films but my personal – as an old woman – take on Hotel Salvation.
I fail to see why this film has been so praised by influential reviewers. “In a class with Ozu’s Tokyo Story” (Financial Times) is quoted on the DVD cover and Mark Kermode, in BFi Player declares it “international treasure…. profound and insightful” .
My first impression was one of boredom at the long takes on the road, the tourist’s views of the holy city of Varanasi and the Gange, and family dynamics seen from a very male point of view.
Not knowing the Hindu beliefs of the after life I could not engage in the comic aspect around funeral customs, the manipulation of rules and regulations of Hotel Salvation where people go when they are about to die, the generational differences, the marijuana highs, the phone calls to Rajiv from the office. There is also – obligatory for Indian films aimed at a Western audience – a visit to the Indian market, the rebellion against an arranged marriage, the scooter as symbol of female liberation and the importance of food and its preparation.
While the treatment of the change in the father (Daya)/son (Rajiv) relationship from indifference to love and care is sensitive, it is drowned in a profusion of odd scenes full of cliches and easy laughs. More importantly to me is the way the narrative is used to avoid confronting death and instead to concentrate on exotic funeral processions and long shots of cremation.
What intrigued me is the only scene with some pathos is the scene when Daya is very ill and unconscious and Rajiv cares for him with love and worry. This to me felt like a rehearsal for an event that has no main performance. The family calls thinking it is the last days for Daya. But he recovers from this episode, everybody goes home and the film carries on.
However an old woman,( very good cook in a room infested with mice) who lost her husband some years ago is still at the hotel and provides comfort and companionship. After her cremation Daya is ready to die.
The family and the audience are spared the main character’s last days and hours and his funeral procession started in tears finishes in good humour.
I cannot understand how one reviewer compares the treatment of death in this film with Ozu’s masterful treatment of death in Tokyo Story. Are the reviewers aware of the three versions of the classic The Ballad of Narayama? where acceptance of death in old age is treated with depth and complexity?
Is the film devised for a western audience? Is it funny for Indian people who are more familiar with generational differences in beliefs, life and customs ?
It may be just that my point of view as an old woman with experience of many deaths of loved ones think that the subject deserves better.