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On November 26, 2008, the City of Mumbai, India, was under siege by terrorists in a co-ordinated shooting and bombing attack that lasted four days. For long hours until security forces arrived from outside of the City, twelve sites in Mumbai were attacked and civilians were gunned down defenceless or taken hostage.

An Australian production, Hotel Mumbai had its world premiere at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival in September, 2018. Director Anthony Maras in this his debut feature captures the horrific attack ten years ago with a pace that is intense and sweeping, leaving viewers breathless as they watch terror unfold on screen, acts after acts of senseless violence. But don’t let this drive you away.

The setting of the thriller Hotel Mumbai is the luxury heritage Hotel Taj Mahal Palace, or the Taj, where many foreign, renowned personalities had frequented. It was one of the twelve targets of the terror attacks, for obvious reason. Gunmen armed with AK-47 assault rifle and hand grenades took foreigners hostage at the five-star hotel and shot point-blank many others. In the aftermath, 31 in the hotel were killed, almost half were staff refusing to escape but stayed to defend and assist the trapped hotel guests.

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Dev Patel as Arjun in “Hotel Mumbai”. Photo courtesy of TIFF.

The storylines following several guests in the hotel are particularly gripping, like Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) hiding in a closet caring for a baby who wouldn’t stop crying as the baby’s parents David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) are trapped somewhere else in the hotel, trying to get to their infant son.

Dev Patel plays staff server Arjun. The turban he wears makes one of the guests fearful. A crisis situation could tip either way, as an opportunity for understanding and the breakdown of barrier, or an incendiary fuse leading to deeper hatred and animosity. In a volatile situation as the hotel is besieged, complications could be deadly. But Arjun exudes ample dignity and generosity. That turban will later become a symbol of selfless grace.

The consoling breathers and the meaningful elements in the film then were these acts of kindness and courage. Maras captures the human foibles in the face of dangers, as well the strength of the hotel staff in protecting their guests. Their sacrificial, heroic acts render the film not merely a record of atrocity, but a gratifying chronicle of resilience and bravery.

The bullet-riddled and fire damaged five-star hotel was fully reopened after only twenty-one months. A special commemoration was held and a monument set up to honor those who died.

 

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“Hotel Mumbai” Press Conference at TIFF. From left: Director Anthony Maras, actors Dev Patel, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs, and Armie Hammer (back). Photo by Diana Cheng

There was a good representation of main cast members at the press conference of the film, moderated by Richard Crouse of CTV. Present were director Anthony Maras and actors Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Jason Isaacs, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, and Anupam Kher. They all commended the hotel staff for their extraordinary courage, some they had met in person who were survivors of the attack.

Upon talking with hotel staff and understanding the actual events, the actors were impressed that small acts of kindness were the essence of resistance. There were staff who had escaped but went back to save hotel guests. Some in the kitchen would put cookie sheet inside their clothes as shield to protect themselves in order to cover guests as they escape. One particular poignant observation they all felt was the breakdown of barriers as both staff and guests were all victims of the horrific act of violence. All racial and financial barriers came down in the face of crisis.

The cast also stressed the point that the perpetrators were all misguided and brainwashed young men. Nine of the ten gunmen were killed. But the mastermind, called “the Bull” in the film—who was in constant contact, directing the attackers throughout by means of their cell phones—was never caught.

 

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