In “Hotel Mumbai,” director Anthony Maras is tasked with telling a story about terrorism without reinforcing it. It’s a difficult challenge. Maras joins John Collee in developing the screenplay and they succeed in telling an important story that is also about selfless service, honour and most importantly, faith.
“Hotel Mumbai” is based on true events relating to the 2008 coordinated terror attacks in Mumbai, India. Ten unassuming young jihadists arrive Mumbai by boat. They split into groups. Meanwhile, one of India’s historic hotels, Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel, is playing host to many VIP guests. Notable among them are; Iranian-British heiress Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), her American husband, David (Armie Hammer), their baby Cameron and his nanny Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). Zahra and her family are in Mumbai for a hush-hush naming ceremony for baby Cameron. They occupy suite 409. The daring and carefree Russian Vasili (Jason Isaacs) is another important guest.
The hotel’s best hands including butler Jim (Alex Pinder) and chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) are at their beck-and call. Waiter Arjun (Dev Patel – best known for his role in Slumdog Millionaire) and other kitchen staff are ready to offer their dinner guests the best service. Oberoi tells the kitchen staff,
“Remember always, here at the Taj, guest is god.”
As the high and mighty dine at the Taj Mahal, the terrorists head for various locations in Mumbai where they cause mayhem. A group head for the CST train station, another go to the Leopold Cafe and the others attack the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.
The terrorists receive instructions from an unknown leader. He is the mastermind and they refer to him as “brother.” They kill guests without thinking twice. But their main targets are the VIP guests who they plan to take hostage to make a statement to the world. Local police soon arrive but they cannot contain the terrorists because they are not well equipped. Although the terrorists are a handful, they wield more sophisticated weapons. The guests are at the mercy of the attackers until police arrive from Delhi which is 800 miles away. It is a dire situation.
Producers, Basil Iwanyk,Gary Hamilton, Andrew Ogilvie, Jomon Thomas, Mike Gabrawy, Julie Ryan and Brian Hayes do a good job of depicting the social inequality in India. They create the luxurious ambience of the Taj Mahal, and juxtapose it with the deprivation in south Mumbai. Prior to the attacks some of the attackers hadn’t used a water closet toilet. Nor had they tasted the kinds of meals served at the Taj Mahal.
As such, it is easy to appreciate the terrorists’ motivations. But it is nothing new. It is poverty. And they are lured by a promise that their families would be handsomely rewarded. They also hold unto a reward they will supposedly receive in the after life. We hear this in a conversation between of the attackers, Imran – Amandeep Singh, and his dad. Imran is one of the most pitiable of the lot. He has a conscience and Zahra will benefit from it.
Zahra was among the survivors of the tragic events. And her faith plays a major role. What we make of faith is one strong message which “Hotel Mumbai” sends. To Zahra, faith represents a giver of life. Finding herself in a life threatening situation, she turned to prayer and it pricked Imran’s conscience until he spared her life. But it is disheartening what faith means to the brainwashed jihadists.
Chef Oberoi, Arjun and butler Jim are also among the heroes in “Hotel Mumbai.” Oh what a moving moment it was when Oberoi said it was okay for those with wives and children to go home. But in response, Jim said:
“I’ve been here 35 years, this is my home, I’m staying.”
Jim’s statement encouraged several other kitchen staff to stay behind and together they saved the lives of several guests.
Arjun proves that poverty is not an excuse for wrongdoing. Rather, he proved himself as honourable. He lives in the slums with a heavily pregnant wife and daughter.
On that fateful night, he showed up at work with the wrong footwear and was almost dismissed by Oberoi. But he begged to work his shift because of how much he needed the money. He also wanted to serve at the private party in Vasili’s suite – but I bet he will forever thank his stars that Oberoi turned him down. Nonetheless, Arjun put himself at risk several times to get his guests to safety.
Certainly, Patel played the Arjun character with a lot of heart. From his rise to fame in the 2008 Academy Award winning movie, “Slumdog Millionaire” to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” in 2012, we are pleased to see how far the 28-year old has come. His most profound presence in “Hotel Mumbai” is his ride home after the terror attacks. Arjun is lost in thought and we feel his emotions. He wears no expression. It’s that look of confusion and gratitude all in one. Confused by the events of the previous night, and at the same time thankful to have made it out alive.
Movies such as “Hotel Mumbai” which are based on true events are important. You will find this movie truly compelling if you are interested in historical events. “Hotel Mumbai” is still showing local theatres.
Directed by: Anthony Maras
Cast includes: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Jason Isaacs, Alex Pinder, Amandeep Singh, Suhail Nayyar, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, Angus McLaren, Yash Trivedi, Vipin Sharma, Manoj Mehra, and Carmen Duncan
Image: DNA India/ Bleecker Street