By Ambar Chatterjee
'Hotel Mumbai is an edge of the seat journey into the psyche of the victims and the killers'
Cast: Dev Patel, Nazanin Boniadi, Armie Hammer, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs
Director: Anthony Maras
Rating: 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)
Hotel Mumbai documents the attacks of 26/11 concentrating on the events in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and how it affected the lives of a plethora of individuals who were there on that fateful day. Anthony Maras who co-wrote the film with John Collee (Master and Commander, Happy Feet) takes a very contained approach to the story. Unlike Ram Gopal Varma (Attacks of 26/11) who tried to encapsulate the whole calamity taking us through all the locations of the attacks, Maras confines his film to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. This works very well for the film as we can form connections with the victims and the perpetrators as we get to experience in some details the backgrounds of these characters.
Arjun (Dev Patel) is a Sikh waiter who has a pregnant wife at home and not a lot of money in his pocket. On that fateful day, he arrives at the hotel short of shoes which happens to be a part of his uniform. He nearly gets thrown away from the shift but the chef, Oberoi (Anupam Kher) has mercy on his condition and lets him stay on. Oberoi, on the other hand, is unforgiving and hell-bent on perfection chef who is thrust into a situation wherein his skills as a chef count for nothing. He is forced to take a very different avatar where the life and safety of a large chunk of his guests depend on his decisions and intellect. Here is a man who starts off as a confident and charismatic leader but soon turns into someone through whom we can experience the sheer panic of the situation first hand.
Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) and David (Armie Hammer) are a recently married couple with a newborn baby. David is sweet, caring and yet somewhat ill-advised about Indian customs and traditions. Zahra, who was pregnant before tying the knot has apparently faced a lot of backlashes and is somewhat diminished in her approach towards everything. However, once the attack starts, the two find themselves in a situation that forces them to go against their characters and take unprecedented risks to get to their child first and then to each other.
Even the terrorists have their own stories. Imran (Amandeep Singh) is just a kid who apparently comes from a poor background. He not only has been brainwashed into carrying out the attacks but his family has also been promised financial assistance. Halfway through the film, he realizes that his masters might not have kept their words and it is then that we see him for the vulnerable individual that he is. His brainwashing is so well done that even after learning from his parents that they haven't received any financial assistance; he moves ahead with his mission and does his best to complete it. His story reaches an apex when he is faced with the task of killing a victim who starts chanting Islamic verses as he is about to murder her. Abdullah (Suhail Nayyar) is another terrorist who loses his calm at the slightest of instigations. He is also struggling with the English language. There comes a time when we see him unearth the location of some of the survivors but he is unable to enter the place where they are hiding. It is here that we get to see the true extents of his angst.
If this film was made by an Indian, the story would definitely have a bearing on the events and the sheer shock that it brought with it. However, Anthony Maras can maintain an absolutely objective mind to the proceedings and this helps him to make a film that is not about patriotism or self-sacrifice but more about survival from a situation that none of the people involved had been up against before. The film also serves the purpose of documenting the heroism of the staff member of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel without whose help, the body count would have been a lot higher. This is a facet of the story that is often ignored but Maras makes it a point to give them their due.
The action and thrills involved in the film are top-notch. While the gunfights are kept realistic and attempt to recreate the exact feel of the actual events, we definitely get an idea of the magnitude of the tragedy and the sheer horror that 26/11 was. We also get to be in the shoes of the victims and understand how they might have been feeling. This goes on a long way into adding to the tension of the proceedings which makes Hotel Mumbai and edge of the seat thriller from start to finish. The film remains focused on its primary plot points and shuns every other unnecessary element that we generally associate with Bollywood films.
Dev Patel is wonderful as the protagonist of the film. Apart from a few sequences here and there where he comes across as unnecessarily dramatic and preachy (not his but the director's fault), he remains on point throughout the film. It does help that he gets his ascent right and he appears close enough to the character that he is playing. Anupam Kher is a master of his craft and it is no wonder that he effectively disappears behind the character of Oberoi. It is a fact that the character suits him well because he has the kind of suave charm that Oberoi oozes every time he is on screen. It just adds more credibility to his essay.
Armie Hammer looks stunned and disillusioned by whatever is happening and he does it with the kind of credibility that would make anyone believe his act. I loved the portions where he takes immense risks to get to his child and how distraught he is, shows on his face as he crosses one hurdle after another. Nazanin Boniadi is pitch-perfect as his wife who has apparently had a lavish and luxurious life but is suddenly thrust into a situation that not only makes her do things that she has never done before but also puts her in a room full of people who for once judge her for her skin tone and language and not the wealth and position that she possesses. Jason Isaacs is quirky as a Russian ex-serviceman.
Amandeep Singh and Suhail Nayyar do commendable jobs as the terrorists Imran and Abdullah. I never thought that I would ever say this but their portrayal of the killers at certain points does make you feel bad for the boys who have been brainwashed into doing something that they have been made to feel is righteous. When the time comes for them to die, they do so with tears in their eyes. They now know for certain that they are not going to heaven and it shows.
Hotel Mumbai is an edge of the seat affair. It has enough to make you revisit it and the amount of credibility that it brings to its characters and the story, in particular, made me appreciate the film even more. There are no jingoistic monologues or dialogues. No pulsating background scores are telling you to rise up with patriotic fervor. There is no Pakistan bashing either. What we get instead is a very human story of a group of people and what they did when they were in the line of indiscriminate fire and didn't know what was happening in the first place.