Hotel Mumbai Movie Review: November 26, 2019, marks the 11th year anniversary of one of the most horrifying terrorist attacks on Indian soil. 11 years before, like many perplexed, scared Mumbaikars then, even I was awake the whole night on 26/11, glued to my television set, shocked by what's happening. It was the night when ten terrorists took our city as a hostage and indulged in the bloodshed of our kin. Of course, being a hapless, seething spectator pales significantly in front of the pain of the survivors and the relatives of those who lost their near ones and dear ones to bullets, that spilt blood wantonly irrespective of any religion. Even after a decade, the scars are still fresh and perhaps, as a reminder that we need to change the bandages, comes a film, Hotel Mumbai, that relives that night of horror. Hotel Mumbai Song Humein Bharat Kehte Hain: Dev Patel and Anupam Kher's Track Will Send Chills Down The Spine.
Hotel Mumbai is directed by Australian film-maker Anthony Maras and chronicles the attack on Mumbai by a bunch of brainwashed youngsters sent from across the border, with the sole purpose of killing and then be killed. It, however, focuses on the siege of the Taj Hotel, that killed many of its guests and workers, before the terrorists were ultimately killed. Maras and his co-writer John Collee merge fact with fiction to create an engrossing, often horrifying tale that is bound to absorb you, even if you ponder the need for a film that pokes at old wounds. But hey, didn't we make a chest-thumping film on the Uri attacks that was more recent?
The one major real-life character that Hotel Mumbai retains is Taj's Executive Chef, the famous Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher). Others are mostly fictional creations through whose eyes we witness the horrors unfolding. There is Arjun (Dev Patel), a Sikh employee working at the hotel, who Oberoi has a soft corner for, and whose wife is expecting their second child. The other major characters include a rich Muslim heiress from the UK, Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) and her architect husband David (Armie Hammer), along with their infant baby and his nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). There is also a Russian billionaire Vasili (Jason Isaacs), who is an arms dealer and plans to have a wild party in his room. All their lives, along with many others, get intertwined that night as they all become equal in front of the biggest enemy of them all - terror.
You can dismiss Hotel Mumbai as a cash-grab opportunity to make money out of a tragedy, like James Cameron's Titanic. That could be the case, but I am of the firm belief that every real-life story needs to be retold, so that we can learn from what we went wrong and set things right so that another such attack never happens. There is another debate on whether a 'white' filmmaker can do the right justice to a tragedy that happened on our soil. Well, we had our opportunity in the past, and all we did was that horrid Ram Gopal Varma film, The Attacks of 26/11. Haven't Bollywood itself recreated the Twin Tower attacks of New York in Naseeruddin Shah's directorial debut Yun Hota Toh Kya Hota? So such debates feel hollow, and in my personal opinion, Hotel Mumbai doesn't sanitise the tragedy or make it into masala stuff, and also goes beyond being a docudrama. Anupam Kher, Dev Patel’s ‘Hotel Mumbai’ Dialogues Are Based on Real Phone Transcripts of 26/11.
But that's not the only reason I was fascinated with the movie. I was overwhelmed with its focus on how humanity makes unlikely heroes from ordinary men. Arjun may be fictional but he represents each and every employee of the hotel who put their guests' lives and died in their line of duty. Like those two receptionist girls who get bullets in their heads, for refusing to make calls to the unsuspecting guests in their rooms and get them to open their doors to their doom. They are as heroic as the commandoes who brought down the terrorists, and Maras, without going overboard, creates a moving tribute for the martyred and the surviving heroes. One of them being Chef Oberoi, who also remains in his post, assuring both his team and his guests of hope, when chances seem bleak.
Watch The Trailer of Hotel Mumbai:
The makers create a palpable sense of fear and suspense in nearly every scene, managing to make the royal interiors of the Taj look dangerously claustrophobic. Particularly gripping are the portions involving the nanny and the crying baby, as the former tries to hide from the killers, while desperately making sure that the baby's cries aren't heard. While the focus on a couple of 'white' stars may be annoying to some, Hotel Mumbai doesn't let them empower the narrative, even for someone with the stature of Armie Hammer. At times, the film does indulge in cliches and caricatures, like David asking for a beef burger only to be told by his wife that cows are sacred in India. Or the inclusion of a suspicious white lady, who becomes the catalyst in two of the non-white characters engage in sermonising to defend their beliefs. Such scenes could have been avoided, but they don't mar the story-telling in a huge manner.
The movie also doesn't flinch away from depicting the depravity in which the young terrorists carry out their killings. Each bullet they fired hits hard and we feel it in our hearts. At the same time, Maras also puts up a convincing portrayal of them as misguided youngsters who are deceived into thinking the killing of 'sinners' is done in the name of Allah. Even without getting into their backstories, the movie gives us clues of their impoverished upbringing, like some of them get fascinated by the Western Loos and croissants of the hotel right in the middle of their massacre. You can't help but grimace at how their unseen overlord incites them, on their cellphone, to do things that at times, even they flinch, while twisting every statement. Maras doesn't make us feel bad for them, but you do pity their foolhardiness.
Hotel Mumbai is also technically competent, with a special mention for the production and sound design, as well as the cinematography. Even the performances are good, led by a very likeable Dev Patel. Playing a character that is both a hero and a possible victim, Dev adequately makes his actions reflect the courage mingled with fear needed for the character. Anupam Kher is splendid as the real-life hero Oberoi, letting his commanding presence dominate the scene, without overpowering the proceedings. Armie Hammer is suitably restrained, while Nazanin Boniadi and Tilda Cobham-Hervey are fantastic. While his Russian character often borders at being caricaturish, and his accent is dubious, Jason Isaacs does pitch in a decent performance. Also a special mention to Amandeep Singh, who was incredible as Imran, one of the terrorists who gets shot in the leg.
- Engaging In Many Portions
- The Performances
- Doesn't Pander to Sensationalism
- Pays an Emotional Tribute to the Unlikely Heroes of the Night
- Gets Trapped Occasionally in the Cliches
- Jason Isaacs' Character isn't Well-Defined
- The Film Feels Elitist in the Sense As It Doesn't Delve Much Into The Attacks In Other Places (The CST firing is Shown Offscreen)
Deftly directed and adequately nail-biting, Hotel Mumbai is an intense retelling of one of the most terrifying attacks in the City of Dreams, that is also often moving. The movie is releasing around the time of the incident's 11th year anniversary. So do watch it not just for remembering those we lost, but also for the unbreakable spirit of the city and its inhabitants as it rises like a phoenix from one tragedy after another.