Hotel Mumbai movie cast: Dev Patel, Anupam Kher, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Manoj Mehra, Dinesh Kumar
Hotel Mumbai movie director: Anthony Maras
Hotel Mumbai movie rating: 3 stars
The world has known no terror attack of its kind. It changed hotel security for ever in India, while the world gathered from it lessons on how 10 men alone could bring a metropolis down to its knees. Anthony Maras’s Hotel Mumbai understands this, letting the bullets, blood, bombs and the senseless brutality of 26/11 alone drive this story. There is no attempt to relieve the tension, no little side stories to humour its audience, and almost no strained sentimentality. However, that both serves this deeply chilling script well — more chilling for it being real — and takes away from it.
In the focus on getting things right, in the care given to details such as accents, in trying to capture multiple stories encapsulating individuals caught in that collective horror, we end up not caring for any one of them in particular.
For those of us more familiar with some of those individual stories or the larger conspiracy, the care paid to recreating the attack rather than the people caught in it might even seem a bit exploitative. There are a great many deaths at close quarters and as many inflicted at cold, dispassionate distance. The poor die unmourned, the rich have their tragedies unfold at length — a perhaps unavoidable part of the stage being one of India’s most-exclusive hotels.
Maras, and co-writer John Collee, like other Westerners before them mistaking condescending kindness for largeheartedness, portray men and women of their own worlds, better than the tiny lanes they plunge into, to tell the story of one of the film’s main protagonists. The latter is a brave Sikh waiter played by Patel, Arjun, who has a daughter, a pregnant wife, and obvious money problems, all of which is portrayed by him in a one-note large-eyed, transfixed expression. The one scene where the worlds of the served and the servants collide is painful in its awkwardness.
Hammer and Boniadi fare better as the American-Iranian/English couple, deeply in love and parents to an infant. Once the attacks begin, the family gets separated and stranded in different corners of the hotel, to heart-stopping effect for the child.
Kher is efficient as the Taj’s real-life chef Oberoi, who rises to the occasion, as many of the hotel staff actually did.
If this is a film clearly in awe of Taj, the other people it does full justice to are the four terrorists (Singh, Mehra, Nayyar, Kumar) who go about destroying it. It’s they who are the most fascinating characters of Hotel Mumbai, conversing in a credible Pakistani Punjabi (shockingly familiar), taking orders constantly from a high command (their minute-by-minute dialogue over earphones a bit of a stretch), pushing themselves as much on blind faith and promises of heaven, money and a sense of injustice, as brotherly camaraderie. In the vastness of the hotel, the film brings out a growing sense of claustrophobia well, as they circle closer to their scared prey, with the two sides watching out for every sound, every footstep, every knock, and every ding of the elevator bell.
Hotel Mumbai is also unsparing about the incompetence of the authorities who could have stopped this tragedy from achieving the scale it did — the special forces which kept a city waiting, the police that struggled for reinforcements, the TV cameras that gave away vital clues, the government that failed to stop them. This makes the bravery of those who made the last stand in that hotel as much more powerful, even as it reminds us that, 11 years down the line — as drama of another kind played out in Mumbai’s hotels through the 26/11 anniversary — we would be lucky to have a different ending.