Kolkata: The two-hour-three-minute long docu-drama of debutant director Anthony Maras is strong, subdued, nerve-wrecking thriller that keeps the audience at the edge of the seat. The film begins with a British-Muslim heiress Zahara (Nazanain Bonaidi), her American husband David (Armie Hammer), child Cameroon and his nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham) arriving at the Hotel, where every hotel staff believes – Guest is God.
The couple opts for a romantic dinner, leaving the child under the guardianship of Sally. Seated next to the couple is an obnoxiously sleazy Russian businessman played by Jason Isaacs. Unknown to the elite guests of the hotel, already two spots (CST and Leopold Cafe) have already been attacked by terrorists and their sub-group comprising four members have already entered the hotel along with those have escaped the Leopold Cafe.
The film, throughout the narration, never discloses the identity of the terrorists as members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba group, till the end credits rolls in. The director, who is also the co-screenplay writer of the film, uses his character, many of which he has claimed to be fictionalised ones, inspired by real people, barring Anupam Kher’s character – Chef Hemant Oberoi, who along with Arjun (Dev Patel), one of the hotel servers, plays a pivotal role to save a large number of their guests.
With a taut plot, which grips the audience, the narrative is both hard-hitting and nerve-wreaking for the Indian audience, who have witnessed the horror in 2008, by seeing the live news updates of the three-day-long battle that ensue between the terrorists holed up in the hotel and Mumbai police force along with the Indian armed forces.
The merciless voice of the commander-in-chief of the terrorist attack, addressed as the Bull, is seen as the main orchestrator of the attack, continually directing the brainwashed terrorist to execute the attack. The attackers are continually reminded of their good deed and how the world is watching them wreak havoc, live.
The film inspired by 52-minute long documentary Surviving Mumbai, directed and co-scripted by Australian filmmaker Anthony Maras, recounts the pain, trauma and fight put up by tourists and staffs of luxury hotel Taj Mahal when terrorist attacked the hotel along with 11 other spots in Mumbai on November 26, 2008. The film briefly touches upon terrorist attacks that took place in Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Leopold Cafe, which also happened on the same night.
The film becomes a bit difficult to watch for even the bravest person watching the film. The subdued, yet near-perfect performances of the character impact the audience, who not just witnesses, but after a certain becomes part of the journey of the characters, some of whom get slain and some rescued.
The film captures it all, right from the helplessness of the not-well equipped Mumbai Police, who despite all enter the hotel to gain access to the hotel’s CCTV room to get details of the terrorists, which later helped the Special forces that arrived from Delhi for their rescue. The anger of the public for delayed army operation and the horror of the 72-hour-long siege is well augmented with the judicious use of the real news footages.
However, stands out among all is the emergence of extraordinary humans from ordinary men. Patel and Kher deliver their performances with deft perfection, while Hammer, Bonaidi, Cobham relay the panic, pain, confusion and fear among the guests with perfection.
The filmmaker through his terrorist character Imran played by Indian actor Amardeep Singh, shows, how poor youths are brainwashed to execute these act of terror. The scene, where Imran, who has been hit on his leg by a police bullet, on realising that his end is close, calls up his parents to ask if they had received the promised money for him doing his act or when Imran refuses to kill Zahra, while she is offering Salah, despite Bull clearly saying that it doesn’t matter if he kills a fellow Muslim. The scene thereby clearly stating that terrorism has no religion.
The film will hit you hard and will have a lingering effect on your mind. The filmmaker and actors along with the background score composers have put in an earnest effort to deliver a near-real experience of the 72-hour-long siege of the luxury hotel.
Given that the film will be releasing at a time that coincides with the 11th anniversary of the dastardly terror attack, it becomes a must-watch to salute the bravery of ordinary people during the attack. A word of caution, be prepared for the film to touch upon the raw nerve of every Indian, who has stoically watched the chaos wreaked upon India and chose to be resilient.