MUMBAI — When real stories are told, especially with disclaimers that such a film is largely for entertainment only, dramatic licenses and fictionalization is a foregone conclusion.
But the best part of “Hotel Mumbai” is that the added drama is so well-chosen that we are repelled and appalled by the sheer brutality of it all, and get to realize how fundamentalism in any religion can lead to incredible inhumanity.
At the end of the film, we even surmise that many of the real stories, across the city and in the 5-star hotels that were attacked, must have been much more horrifying and poignant than those shown in the film.
I did notice one serious gaffe in the writing and depiction, but the force of the narrative has now led me to actually forget what I thought I would not! And that simply shows the power of the screenplay and the visual potency of this film.
To put it in a nutshell, the film was gut-wrenchingly authentic, a heart-rending saga of innocents suffering for no reason whatsoever, of searing human emotional turmoil and, above all, the killing tension that the guests and staff of the Taj Mahal Hotel must have gone through.
So much is known about 26/11 (our press screening happened on its dark 11th anniversary), but what we get to feel, sense and experience in this fascinating motion picture is how selfless and valiant normal human beings can become at critical times: the story of the nurse Sally (sensitively enacted by Tilda Cobham-Hervey) and how she protects the baby in her charge; the evolution of the Russian ex-Spetznaz operative (Jason Isaacs); the butler (Alex Pinder) who stoutly calls the hotel his home that he will not leave for fear of personal safety; and the sensitive love story of the American (Armie Hammer) and his British-Muslim heiress wife Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi).
Maras’s triumph lies in keeping us at the edge of the seats even as we are nauseated, less at the depiction and more at the fact that all this and worse must have happened that fateful night. The technology is extremely well-handled, but Collee and Maras bring in so much soul and, finally, positive spirit, that we cheer for the brave. The anguish of Arjun (Dev Patel)’s wife (we do not know the actress’ name) is almost tangible, and her self-control admirable in a momentous performance.
The acting honors go to all, but the show is stolen by the underplayed, unassuming yet business-like chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and waiter Arjun. The five terrorists absolutely look their parts, and we can almost smell their grime and see the way they are controlled like puppets.
India loves light entertainment and this film is unlikely to get the footfalls and will have to do with hosannas. But few movies deserve hosannas as this one.
Produced by: Basil Iwanyk, Gary Hamilton, Andrew Ogilvie, Jomon Thomas, Mike Gabrawy, Julie Ryan & Brian Hayes
Directed by: Anthony Maras
Written by: John Collee & Anthony Maras
Music: Volker Bertelmann
Starring: Anupam Kher, Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Jason Isaacs, Alex Pinder, Nagesh Bhonsle, Suhail Nayyar, Amandeep Singh, Manoj Mehra, Dinesh Kumar, Amriptal Singh & others