Hotel Mumbai is the searing dramatisation of the 2008 terrorist attack that culminated in a bloody siege at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Adding to a box-office appetite for re-enactments of real life terrorist attacks comes Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai, the story of the 2008 Mumbai attacks – a series of 12 separate terror incidents culminating in the bloody siege at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
If the genre first found real form after 9/11 with Paul Greengrass’ United 93, Oliver Stone’s World Trade Centre and many others, then the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing would be depicted in both Peter Berg’s 2016 action drama Patriots Day and David Gordon Green’s Stronger in 2017.
Steven Spielberg revisited the assassination of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics in his 2005 drama Munich, although terror dramatisation really accelerated last year with two competing films about the 2011 terrorist mass murders at a Norwegian youth camp; Erik Poppe’s Utoya: July 22 and Paul Greengrass’ 22 July, released just months apart.
Like its terror predecessors, Hotel Mumbai is based on hundreds of hours of first-hand accounts and footage, mixing superstar actors Dev Patel and Armie Hammer with unknowns, portraying how real people reacted to the horrific three-day ordeal at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Australian director Maras first demonstrated his ability to show the humanity in a violent world with his 2011 short film, The Palace, earning him a best screenplay AACTA and best short film awards at the Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne Film Festivals.
Hotel Mumbai rarely lets up during a 125-minute, white-knuckle dramatisation where ordinary people make unthinkable sacrifices.
When STACK meets with Maras at the Toronto International Film Festival, he hesitates when we ask about the film’s unrelenting terror. “We spent a lot of time listening to the stories of the people who had survived, and the goal was to try and place audiences in the hotel to try and give them an experience of how it would feel to live through this, and so the violence depicted on screen is an outgrowth of that.
“I tried not to be gratuitous. In many cases, the violence is implied, but you know exactly what’s happened. In some cases that can be more disturbing because you’re seeing it in your mind’s eye. That being said, it was a decision not to shy away from the violence, but also not to make it feel like a gratuitous, exploitative thing,” says the director whose 2005 debut short film Azadi followed the plight of an Afghan family escaping the Taliban in search of a new life in Australia.
Filming Hotel Mumbai on location in India and his hometown of Adelaide, Maras was forced to postpone shooting the final scenes after slicing off the tip of his thumb on the blade of a whirling fan in a Mumbai bar.
Fortunately, Patel located the bloody digit on the bar floor, finding one of the best plastic surgeons in Mumbai to re-attach it.
Maras hopes his film contributes to an on-going dialogue about terrorism. “In most films where a terror attack happens, the terrorists are nameless, faceless agents of evil. In this, you see the human side of it. You see kids who were, for lack of a better word, tricked into this; told that their families would be getting money for this; told that maybe a surgery would be performed if they went and did jihad. Then obviously you see the emotional toll taken on the hostages and people involved in the attack but, also for the first time I can really think of, you see the emotional toll that it takes on the actual gunman committing the atrocities. It’s not a two-dimensional portrait of a faceless evil with a gun or a bomb. It’s human beings,” he says of his film, which also features Jason Isaacs and Nazanin Boniadi.
For Armie Hammer, an interesting facet of Hotel Mumbai is how the real terrorist attack is played out over time. “It really was one of the first terror attacks that was being played out on the news, all over the world,” he recalls. “Most terror attacks I can think of, in recent memory, happened really quickly. Whether it be 9/11, Oklahoma City… all those attacks are the kind of thing where it’s, boom, and then you’re dealing with the aftermath. In this, you are there, experiencing the hours and hours and hours of the attack.
“I think it’s important to realise that, as Americans, we use the term ‘terror attack’, for anything that’s done to us,” he adds. “But then you also see why these people were motivated in the first place and how they see it in their minds.”
Hotel Mumbai is in cinemas on March 14