Hotel Mumbai, a film about the 2008 attack on a hotel in the Indian city, received a standing ovation at its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, and the cast and filmmakers said they believe that was because of the human portrayal not only of the victims but also the perpetrators.
Starring Dev Patel, Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs, the film recounts the attack on Mumbai’s luxury Taj Mahal hotel, where dozens of guests and hotel workers were killed during a three-day siege carried out by Pakistan-based Islamist militants.
Most of the film is told from the point of view of those trapped in the hotel, as well as of the gunmen.
“You had a whole lot of people from different backgrounds racial, ethnic, from different socio-economic groups who came together in the face of real adversity to survive,” Australian director Anthony Maras told reporters earlier this month. “As Dev (Patel) said, ‘it’s an anthem of resistance.’”
The hotel siege was part of a coordinated series of attacks on a number of targets in one of India’s most populous cities which left more than 160 dead and hundreds wounded.
Patel had just finished acting in his first feature film Slumdog Millionaire, which is set in the slums of Mumbai, when the violence in the city was splashed live across television news channels around the world.
“To come back from this amazing journey (to India) and enter my house in London and see my parents looking at the television screen, watching the city essentially burn, it was very difficult,” he said. “It’s horrible what happened there.”
The Taj Mahal hotel was completely restored by 2010, and a monument was erected in the lobby to commemorate the victims.
The attacks, Patel said, “are still very raw for a lot of people”.
“But they really wanted to put that in the past and show that it didn’t cripple them.”
The cast said the film, which also uses TV footage of the siege, brought some of them to tears when they watched the finished version for the first time. Hammer, who plays American hotel guest David, said that the script was “dripping in humanity.”
“You see the toll the attack has on the guests and the staff of the hotel, but you also see it, really for the first time that I can think of, on the actual perpetrators,” Hammer said.
Isaacs, cast as a Russian guest staying in the hotel, urged watching it with others in a cinema, saying it “connects you with other people and to recognize your common humanity.”
Maras was also granted access to transcripts of intercepted calls be-tween the 10 attackers and their handlers, as well as a video confession from the trial of the only surviving gunman. A lot of their dialogue in the film, he said, was “verbatim”.
“We couldn’t make up anything to the extent of what we heard on those chilling tapes,” he said.
This included a handler telling one of the attackers to leave his phone on throughout the assault so that he could hear the victims’ screams.
The hotel’s executive chef Hemant Oberoi, who has been credited for saving many lives during the assault, attended the film’s premiere.
Anupam Kher plays him in the film, which was his 501st. He said it was his first role to earn him praise as an actor from his mother. “She said, ‘I cried, I was very moved by your acting’.”
Maras said the hotel staff stuffed baking trays and saucepans down their shirts to use as shields and armed themselves with rolling pins and kitchen knives to try to protect themselves and the guests.
“At a time when people are becoming so divided over so many different lines, to have this story where all these people are coming together selflessly to help each other… they were there for one another,” he commented.
“What’s remarkable is that despite the fact that they must all have been out of their wits with terror, they continued to act for each other and help each other,” echoed Isaacs.
The Hollywood Reporter praised the film’s “nail-biting detail and … an impressive you-are-there quality,” while The Wrap said it “delivers a show-stopping account.”