Hotel Mumbai movie review: Dev Patel, Anupam Kher's film on 26/11 terror attacks is immersive and gut-wrenching
Every aspect of Hotel Mumbai, from the direction and performances to the editing and production design, seems harrowingly real.
Revisiting the horrors of the tragic 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks on its 11th anniversary is an ordeal. But when that ordeal is presented through the lens of the victims and survivors of the massacre, one acknowledges why it is inevitable to cash in on such a tragedy for the purpose of filmmaking.
Hotel Mumbai, an Australian-Indian production on 26/11, is based on the 2009 documentary Surviving Mumbai. The treatment and tone by Australian debutant director Anthony Maras, and co-writers John Collee and Maras, is thus more rooted in the actual events that shook the nation 11 years ago, than the behind-the-scenes investigation proceedings that dominated Ram Gopal Varma's rather sensational yet tepid film on the same event from 2013, The Attacks of 26/11.
The film offers novelty, when compared to the documentary, in the form of the creative liberty of dramatisation of actual events. While reports and first hand accounts will have to be vetted endlessly to determine the veracity of the depiction, the film never claims to be an authentic portrayal of the events. It states clearly right at the start it is a fictionalised account of the true events, and is only loosely based on the same.
While the makers avoid any claims of inaccuracy right when the ball starts rolling, they do not leave any stones unturned in their primary role as time-travelers — making the film as lived-in as those who felt the terror in the first place. Right from Maras' holistic direction to Nick Remy Matthews' immersive cinematography to Maras and Peter McNulty's brisk editing to Steven Jones-Evan's production design of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, every aspect of Hotel Mumbai screams reality. The background score, barring a random song by a terrorist (absurd), is only serviceable.
Dev Patel plays Arjun, a Sikh waiter at the hotel, who reports to the head chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher). The narrative starts on a fairly interesting note when Arjun forgets to change his footwear from slippers to formal shoes as he gets late wearing his turban. He is reprimanded by Hemant when he reaches the hotel, who asks him to give up on his shift. Towards the end, the two men (including a bare-headed Arjun, who sacrificed his turban to stanch the bleeding wound of a guest) hug each other, having saved dozens of guests at the hotel. While Hemant's dialogue , "At Taj, Guest is God", does sound like a plug-in, the hug between the two characters, and the horror on their faces throughout the film, shows the mantra goes far beyond just a tagline.
Both Patel and Kher are terrific in their parts, and add to the seemingly lived-in experience of the film. However, the screen time is not majorly devoted to the two. It is shared by a host of interesting characters who all fare well in their limited parts, including Armie Hammer (who plays an American guest David), Nazanin Boniadi (his wife Zahra), Tilda Cobham-Hervey (their nanny Sally), Jason Isaacs (Russian guest Vasili), Nagesh Bhonsle (police inspector DC Vam), and the four terrorists.
Though the film is barely viewed through the lens of the terrorists, it also does not give out an inadvertent sense of Islamophobia. The four terrorists are shown to be heavily indoctrinated, severely brainwashed, and hence, recklessly brutal. They go about gunning down innocent people without any trace of expression on their stoic faces. In fact, had there been more shots of them wantonly going about executing people, it would have almost come across as some version of PUBG. However, the helpless shrieks and desperate attempts to escape the invasion by the guests never let the viewer wander away into unintentional amusement.
When the film concludes, one heaves a heavy sigh of relief, looking at the survivors exposed to broad daylight. It also has an undercurrent of sacrificing one's life for one's family, the scope of which often extends to guests staying at one's hotel, or even a woman who shared a calm drink with you in the midst of a storm.
Anil Kapoor's quiet charisma and innate appeal keep the film going even when its writing enters shallow waters.
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