THIS full-on movie telling the story of the 2008 terrorist attack that left 166 dead and 293 wounded in Mumbai has much to tell filmgoers with the wit to read between its lines.
One hundred and thirty nine victims were Indian nationals; 54 died at a nearby railway station; 30 died at the Oberoi Hotel a few blocks away; 10 at a café and about 10 more at a local cinema. At the Hotel Mumbai (locally referred to as the Taj) 26 foreign guests and five staff died.
The first feature (after a pair of short films) from Anthony Maras, who wrote (with John Collee), directed and edited its two hours, adapts and compresses the nearly-58-hour siege into one violent afternoon and night, from the arrival of 10 well-trained and equipped Islamist extremists in an inflatable boat to the end of the shooting.
Maras and Collee hang the film’s narrative on two groups of characters, victims and attackers. Oberoi (Anupam Kher) was head chef at the Taj. Armie Hammer and Iran-born Nazanin Boniadi play an American couple and Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Sally the nanny caring for their newborn child. Jason Isaacs plays Vasili, a Russian oligarch. Dev Patel plays Arjun, a waiter at the Taj, whose help was critical in getting guests to safety.
Leading the attackers, Amandeep Singh plays Imram and Suhail Nayyar plays Abdullah, two men so imbued with the Islamist-terrorist ethic that they have lost all contact with their humanity. There is a huge list of minor characters, mostly on screen only long enough to make filmgoers aware of them before AK47 bullets take them out.
The film can be read at more than one level. Watch it and feel its awful events unfolding. Watch it and gasp at the inhumane devotion of the attackers to Allah. Watch it and feel a little embarrassed by the way many guests regard hotel staff. Wonder whether the crying of a baby will betray it and its carer to the attackers. Feel distinctly uncomfortable by the tardy arrival of trained forces to confront the killers and take down all but one of them (the tenth was secretly hanged almost four years to the day after the attack began).
And admire the filmmaking craft of Anthony Maras. “Hotel Mumbai” is a jigsaw of a thousand pieces, each in its correct place. Its failure to mention Pakistan’s role in preparing for the attack does not detract from its impact. The fifth film dealing with the event, we await reports of its international reception after its March 14 release.
At all cinemas