HOTEL MUMBAI, a film by ANTHONY MARAS

 |   |  2 min read

HOTEL MUMBAI, a film by ANTHONY MARAS

On the far wall of the luxurious lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai/Bombay there is a list of names.

To see it you have to get through the strict security outside – cars checked for concealed explosives, bags scrutinised – and then walk past the casually wealthy sitting in the spacious and airy lobby where staff are impeccably dressed and attentive.

The list of 32 names (the final one a mystery) are of those who were killed in this stately and historic building during a prolonged terrorist attack in November 2008.

The jihadi killers arrived from training in Pakistan by inflatable dinghy near the Gateway of India across the road from the hotel and spread out to other sites around the city, notably the crowded railway station, the beautiful Metro Cinema built in the Thirties and the famous Leopold Cafe frequented by tourists, and to other places.

Their victims – nearly 200 in total – were not chosen but gunned down at random or killed by explosives. Mumbai – and the world – watched in increasing and helpless horror.

Terrorists often aren't picky and these young men were guided by some notion that creating such havoc would somehow get them a martyr's place in whatever heaven they conceived, and that somehow their callous act would avenge what had happened to Muslims in the city during Partition some 60 years before.

We'll never know if they got to their heaven but within months the damaged areas of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel had been rebuilt and it has been business as usual – mostly – since then.

Hotel Mumbai – mostly shot on a set in Adelaide which recreated the hotel's interiors – mixes a little documentary and news footage from the time with a fictional narrative (based on a survivor's story) of what it was like for the victims and those trapped inside the Taj as the occupation by the terrorists played out over days.

This is not the first film of the horrific events but with real star power – the popular Dev Patel (someone will make the bad joke about him being in another hotel movie), American Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs as a sleazy Russian businessman and glamorous Iranian-born actress Nazzanin Boniadi – it is the one which will gain the most attention.

Screen_Shot_2019_02_28_at_11.22.13_AMIt is brutal – the killers fire indiscriminately or with cruel and calculated indifference at women, children, staff and guests alike – and tense. And Australian director Maras (The Palace, Azadi) doesn't spare the storyline by offering someone who saves the day, although at first blush when hunky Hammer appears it looks like he could be our action hero.

Yes, some people behave heroically but mostly they are scared witless and sometimes just acting on instinct . . . which gets some of them killed.

There are small incidents which are illuminating – one of the fundamentalist terrorists won't touch a woman's breasts in a search for her ID despite having mowed her and others down – and the caring attitude of many of the hotel staff to their guests seems strange, admirable but entirely in keeping with the loyalty they have to the grand institution which employs them.

Hotel Mumbai will doubtless be criticised for some portrayals (Patel is excellent again, Hammer plays against type well) but it humanises the terrorists so they are not mere cyphers and it is a harrowing, tense 125 minutes as the narrative shifts between the staff and guests whose stories intersect, and that of the terrorists.

More thriller than action movie, Hotel Mumbai is a horrifying ride and a reminder that terrorists can strike anywhere, not just marketplaces or embassies but right in the heart of wealth, privilege and luxury.

Hotel Mumbai opens in New Zealand cinemas on Thursday March 14 

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Film articles index

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, a doco by RAOUL PECK

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, a doco by RAOUL PECK

Some years ago in New York I went up to Harlem and by chance there was an exhibition of photos and memorabilia about James Baldwin. It was interesting to note that among the many people... > Read more

SESSIONS FOR ROBERT J, a doco by STEPHEN SCHIBLE

SESSIONS FOR ROBERT J, a doco by STEPHEN SCHIBLE

When Eric Clapton released his 2004 album Me and Mr Johnson – a tribute to Robert Johnson – it seemed rather belated. After all, from the time he was a teenager he'd been listening... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

GUEST TRAVELER JESSICA KITT follows her own piper

GUEST TRAVELER JESSICA KITT follows her own piper

There is a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum when deciding which of my two loves came first: music or travel. I was brought up in a musical family, so music has always been an... > Read more

EPs by Yasmin Brown

EPs by Yasmin Brown

With so many CDs commanding and demanding attention Elsewhere will run this occasional column by the informed and opinionated Yasmin Brown. She will scoop up some of those many EP releases, in... > Read more