(MOVIE REVIEW) It’s been over a decade but for those who were in South Mumbai in 2008, the Taj terror attack is still like a fresh wound. And it resurfaces for Brinda Khandwala as she reviews Hotel Mumbai, a film based on the 26/11 attacks
Factually, the film is as close to the real-life incidents as it could get but it still is a work of fiction, based on true events. Starring Dev Patel, Anupam Kher, Nazanin Boniadi, Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs, this biographical thriller directed by Anthony Maras opens with a typical day in Mumbai’s most iconic five-star hotel – The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Colaba.
Diving straight into the story, it simultaneously shows the ten gunmen casually entering the city, unnoticed, with their arms-loaded backpacks, blending into the population. The first thought is how young these boys are. For those who have seen the actual footage of Kasab’s statement after being caught, its apparent that these gunmen were just young impressionable boys from poor families, lured by money and brainwashed by religion into the terror mission.
The scenes of them getting into taxis and spreading across South Mumbai with machine guns and grenades in their bags, makes you realize how vulnerable the city is. And how difficult it is to nab a few miscreants from the massive population.
Meanwhile at the Taj, the staff is preparing to serve their VIP guests, under the watchful eye of their chief Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher). Among these is a family – Zahra, her husband David and the nanny Sally with their new baby. The story gets the audience emotionally invested in the lives of these four and Arjun (Dev Patel) from the hotel staff, who later helps the guests stay alive and evacuate.
Dev Patel’s portrayal of a Sikh hotel worker, who needs to work extra shifts to keep his family afloat in Mumbai, is alone enough to keep one engaged through the movie. Unlearning his natural American accent, Dev speaks perfect Indian English as Arjun. Mainly in English and otherwise Punjabi (with English subtitles), as spoken by the terrorists, the language of the movie also keeps the rendition close to real-life.
As four of the ten gunmen make their way into the Taj, mindlessly killing everyone at sight, they remain connected on their phones with the mastermind of the terror attacks. This voice keeps feeding them with lines of hatred to stay on the jihadi mission.
The boys seem faithful. But terror has no religion. And Maras shows this delicately through the scene when Zahra begins to recite a Muslim prayer, and the voice still instructs the boy to end her life.
Subtly coming through the storytelling, is a humane side to the young terrorists – which may get some mixed reactions. On one hand is their unforgivable act of mass killings, on the other that they are ill-guided boys who are unknowingly sold to terror masterminds under the guise of ‘training’.
Several scenes show the much read about the courage and hospitality that have become a part of the Taj legacy. Like when the reception staff, at the risk of being heard and shot, makes personal calls to each room asking the guests to stay in or the constant and courteous service of food and beverages while the guests are hiding in the chambers.
The movie is all about what went on inside the Taj from the evening of 26/11 until the next morning. It carefully depicts all the details that were later revealed in news reports and survivor stories. The narration is fraught with nail-biting moments that keep the audience on the edge. Watch it since you’re in Hong Kong because it isn’t screening in India.