Australian filmmaker Anthony Maras first demonstrated his ability to show the humanity in a violent world with his 2011 short film The Palace, which won the AACTA for Best Short Film and Screenplay.
He has since taken it to the next level in his feature debut, Hotel Mumbai (2018) – a searing dramatisation of the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 that culminated in a bloody siege at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, turning this historic monument to India’s progress and diversity into a war zone.
“Obviously I was heartbroken over the violence and loss of life,” Maras says of his initial reaction to seeing reports of the attacks. “But at first I only knew the Mumbai attacks as a series of burning buildings on a TV screen. Then as I watched interviews with survivors, an entirely new dimension of these events opened up for me.
“It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the horror of what occurred at the Taj,” he continues. “But when you take a closer look, a different perspective emerges. There were over 500 people caught up in the Taj Hotel siege. That all but 32 survived is a near miracle. Of the fatalities, half were staff members who had remained to protect their guests. That’s a testament to the extraordinary heroism, ingenuity and self-sacrifice of both staff members and guests alike.”
Based on hundreds of hours of first-hand accounts and footage, Hotel Mumbai stars Dev Patel and Armie Hammer alongside unknowns, portraying how real people reacted to the horrific three-day ordeal.
“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.”
Shot predominantly in Mumbai, with several scenes filmed at the real-life sites where the events occurred, Maras’s hometown of Adelaide also served as a location for some of the interior scenes.
“Australia was a good place to incubate the production, where we had everyone in a very controlled environment for hotel-room setups, so that the crew and cast could get to know one another,” he says. “By the time we got to India to do the bulk of the production, it was a well-oiled machine, we knew where we were at and everyone had confidence in the project.”
Maras hopes that viewers will embrace the film’s message of unity. “The heroic and inspiring way the guests and staff bound together to overcome the most impossible of odds lays at the heart of our film. As does the notion that it’s coming together across cultural, racial, ethnic, religious and economic divides that will lead to a better world.”