Films based on real-life tragedies do make for riveting viewing, but unlike others based on real-life stories like that about wars, historical epics, or inspiring tales, these subjects need to be handled with meticulous care, where a fine balance must be struck between keeping things entertaining for an audience while also remaining sensitive to those who suffered the tragedy. Achieving the former isn’t that demanding a task in the hands of even a decent Director as the original subject material is ripe for the picking with elements ranging from exciting to thrilling.
However, it’s the latter that poses the real challenge as firstly, it’s quite easy to be carried away by the more thrilling aspects of the tragedy, secondly, interspersing sensitivity with thrill is far easier said than done, and thirdly, going overboard with sentimentality at the expense of keeping the film interesting – and, inversely, diluting the actual pain of the victims – is all too common while approaching these projects. Only a handful of films (Schindler’s List, Life is Beautiful, Titanic, Hotel Rwanda, Spotlight, The Impossible to name a few) have accomplished this truly difficult task with aplomb. Well, now once more title, Hotel Mumbai, can be proudly added to that list.
What’s it about
No prizes for guessing that Hotel Mumbai revolves around the 26/11 terrorist massacre in Mumbai city – one of the darkest days in Indian modern history, which still drives us into rage and has singlehandedly been responsible for changing how security measures are administered across the country. After taking us through the events at the start with a fine comb, including the entry of the terrorists and their subsequent attack at CST station and Café Leopold, Colaba, unfolding into panic and hysteria among the masses, the focus shifts to the Taj Hotel at Gateway (as the title indicates), and it’s here that the film brilliantly straddles human fear and despair with heroic acts of selflessness and nail-biting moments of terror.
What’s not hot in Hotel Mumbai? Everything from the direction to writing to editing to cinematography to sound mixing to action choreography to dialogues to the performances are spot on. Documenting every detail in the beginning with the precision of a surgeon and vision of a genius, writer-Director Anthony Maras seamlessly shifts the pandemonium to the Taj Hotel, moving every part like a well-oiled machine, captivating us though chaos, creating poetry in pain, extracting trauma from thrill. Not only has he along with cowriter John Collee extensively done their research, but they’ve thrust their heart and soul into executing each facet of the film. Simultaneously evoking anxiety in the audience’s hearts while adrenaline is coursing through our veins courtesy an extremely tense scene is a herculean task for even the greatest of filmmakers, yet Maras threads the eye of the needed and comes out a winner ten times out of ten.
Establishing a connect between the characters and viewers where we’re bothered about their each move to the point where even the brainwashed perspectives of the terrorists are given a voice and the corrupting influence of their handlers is brought to the forefront. One scene during a particularly harrowing segment, where the terrorist handler orders his minion to shoot a Muslim woman, saying, “She’s not a true Muslim and it’s God’s will,” after the latter hesitates upon discovering said woman’s identity; beautifully sums up how little a part religious zealotry plays with those at the upper echelons of the ‘business’ of terrorism.
Aiding Maras’ vision every step of the way are his actors, with Dev Patel delivering a knockout punch, Anupam Kher brining all his years of experience to underplay a tough character, Jason Isaacs acing a roguish part, and Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi bringing dollops of sensitivity to the two most touching characters of display. It also helps when the Director is on the same page with his technical personnel – Nick Remy Matthews’s camerawork makes the Taj look like a foreboding citadel shrouded under bloodshed, Peter McNulty (with Maras himself as co-editor) captures a gamut of emotions and strife at a perfectly wound two hours, and Steven Jonas-Evans’ production design is a sight to behold.
(Also Watch: Dev Patel and Radhika Apte's lovemaking scene from The Wedding Guest leaked)
If there’s one gripe I have with the film is how a few of the actors come across as naive before others, which seems a tad deliberate in some cases, especially in the case of Hammer and Boniadi’s roles. True story or not, I do believe that Maras could have handled this better, more so when you see how the naivete is not a constant attribute with these characters, thus lacking justification in portions. Moreover, a bit more attention could’ve been paid toward some of the other disturbing accounts we heard of people suffering at the Taj. It’s praiseworthy that everything has been kept snappy and crisp, but this is one time where a slightly longer runtime wouldn’t have hurt the film’s outcome.
(Also Check Out: Anupam Kher's adorable wedding-throwback picture with wife Kiron Kher)
A couple of minor grievances aside, Hotel Mumbai needs to be watched not only by every Indian, but also by anyone around the globe with half a heart beating behind their chest. It’s harrowing, gut-wrenching, emotional, and still so triumphant and entertaining. It’d be highly disappointing if this doesn’t snag a handful of nominations come Oscar season. I’m going with 4 stars.
4 out of 5
Stay tuned to BollywoodLife for the latest scoops and updates from Bollywood, Hollywood, South, TV and Web-Series.
Click to join us on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram. Also follow us on Facebook Messenger for latest updates.