That Undying Spirit:
Rating: Two and a half stars:
Over a decade after those horrific days that the city lived through, comes Anthony Maras’s Hotel Mumbai, concentrating on the siege of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel,(with nods to scenes of carnage in other places), which reminds the world of the terrorist attacks, but does not really add anything to what is already known about 26/11.
What it is says about courage, loyalty and the heroism of ordinary people has value, but it does not translate into a gripping script. Every killing, every desperate attempt to escape, is gut-wrenching, but that’s all the film shows. The young Pakistani terrorists driven by religious zeal, shooting down innocents in the hotel, and blindly obeying the voice of their handler on their phones, look like they came out of a mould.
The staff of the hotel, led by chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and a waiter Arjun (Dev Patel), in the best tradition of “Guest is God” do all they can to save people trapped in the Taj. The beauty of the hotel (one of the terrorists is so awed, he calls it paradise), underlines the savagery of the random killings as much as the number of corpses strewn all over. Even in the Indian media, there was criticism of how the lives of ordinary Indians who died at CST station or Leopold Café (called Lilopal for some reason) did not matter as much as those of the privileged few who were in a luxurious hotel. The media did not exactly cover itself with glory, and foolishly gave away the location of guests hiding inside, in their hurry to be the first with the news.
Except for Oberoi and Arjun, and three or four white guests, the others are just meant to fill the frames with people running helter-skelter to save their lives. The film perhaps needed a more focussed approach or at least a strong emotional hook (Nicolas Saada’s Taj Mahal about the same event was from the point of view of a French teenager trapped in a room was quite effective).
Maras does manage some moments of hold-your-breath chills, like when the terrorists search a room, while a terrified nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) hiding in a cupboard, tries to keep the infant in her charge from wailing. But why are the child’s parents (Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi), or the arrogant Russian (Jason Isaacs) such prominent characters, when there were others, who might have had more moving tracks. Like the two local policemen, thwarted by lack of resources and the delay in the arrival of the rescue team, who decide that they have to do something and rush in to battle the terrorists.
The handsomely shot film is undoubtedly a tribute to the city and its people, made with considerable restraint (not exploitative like Ram Gopal Varma’s The Attacks of 26/11), but for Indian audiences that remember the incident vividly—they were glued to their televisions—they don’t really need the bitter memories dredged up.