Shubhashish Bhutiani’s Mukti Bhawan (2016) has found an audience in Japan, and it’s steadily growing. According to a report in Scroll, the film’s shows are registering an 80-90% occupancy, even in its sixth week. Starring Lalit Behl and Adil Hussain, Mukti Bhawan is the story of an irritable father who drags his son to Varanasi for his ‘final days’. Released as Ganges Ni Kaeru with Japanese posters, the film has surprised its distributor in Japan, Yuji Sadai and his company Bitters End Inc.
Sadai saw the film at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, and had a good feeling about it. He made the effort of flying down five journalists to Varanasi to spend a day with the director, attend aartis and prayer meetings, ahead of its Japanese release. It seems to have worked because the film’s popularity has only grown since its release a month and a half ago.
Producer of the film, Sanjay Bhutiani (and Shubhashish’s father) said, “They (the distributors) sent me pictures of people in queues on the first day of the film’s release in Tokyo. And in the last three weeks, especially, so many people from Japan have been tweeting to us to tell us how much they loved the film. The age group of the audience watching the film in Japan is primarily above 50. They are amazed that Shubhashish was only 24 when he made a film with such depth.”
The makers closed the distribution deal all the way back in 2017, but the release required about 15-16 months of preparation. For example, there was a lot of time spent on accurate subtitles for the film, which enabled the most accurate way of translating the Hindi lines to Japanese phrases. It seems to have come together for Mukti Bhawan, which is unlike the other big-budget Indian films that have found similar success in Japan (like Dhoom 3, Ek Tha Tiger or 3 Idiots).
Mukti Bhawan is still travelling around the world through various film festivals, and is available for streaming on Netflix.