March 27, 2019

Harrowing Docudrama Recounts 2008 Mumbai Massacre

HERO AT THE HOTEL: Dev Patel plays a waiter at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel who tries to save as many guests as possible from radical terrorists in “Hotel Mumbai.” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

By Kam Williams

On November 26, 2008, radical Islamists from Pakistan launched a series of coordinated attacks around the city of Mumbai, India, which would claim 174 lives and leave hundreds more wounded. Within hours of the raid, the authorities were able to secure all of the sites except for the legendary Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

The jihadists ostensibly picked the legendary five-star resort as the location for a final showdown because of its image as a getaway spot for rich and famous Westerners. The siege there would last four days, since the local police were outgunned by the terrorists who were heavily armed with bombs, hand grenades, and automatic weapons.

Directed by Anthony Maras, Hotel Mumbai is a harrowing docudrama which recreates the horrific events which transpired inside the Taj. In making his movie, the first-time filmmaker relied heavily on Mumbai Massacre, a 2009 documentary composed of survivors’ recollections.

This fictionalized account, which changes names and conflates characters, primarily revolves around the ordeals of Arjun (Dev Patel) and David (Armie Hammer). The former is a selfless Sikh waiter who exhibits extraordinary heroism in an effort to save as many of the hotel’s traumatized guests as possible. And the latter is a frazzled tourist desperate to reunite with his wife (Nazanin Boniadi), baby, and nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey).

Besides these protagonists, the film features a profusion of simplistically-drawn supporting players. There’s the Russian playboy (Jason Isaacs); an elitist, world-class chef (Anupam Kher); a deferential butler (Alex Pinder); and so forth.

After the ensemble is introduced, the burning question left to be answered is which of these trapped victims will be able to remain undiscovered by the assassins until the Special Forces Unit finally arrives from Delhi, some 800 miles away.

The terrorist cell in control of the building is portrayed as religious zealots blinded by the prospect of paradise promised by The Bull (Pawan Singh), the operation’s diabolical mastermind.

Yes, the hotel is ultimately retaken and order is restored. Nevertheless, the S.W.A.T. team’s triumph remains overshadowed by the sobering reality of so many lives senselessly lost. In sum, an uplifting tale of heroism and survival, as well as a haunting reminder of the evil that men do.

Excellent (****). Rated R for profanity, bloody images, and pervasive violence. Running time: 123 minutes. Production Companies: Thunder Road Pictures/Xeitgeist Entertainment Group/Arclight Films Electric Pictures. Distributor: Bleecker Street.