Hotel Mumbai

Hotel Mumbai is based on the true story of the 2008 terrorist attacks on Mumbai, which killed 164 people and wounded 308 over four days.  It mainly focuses on the story of the guests and staff at the Taj Palace Hotel who were held hostage and terrorized during that time.

Ten attackers carried out a coordinated series of attacks, and the film follows some of them, and locals and visitors of various nationalities that were caught up in the attack.  Among them are:

  • David (Armie Hammer), his wife Zahara (Nazanin Boniadi), their baby and their nanny Bree (Natasha Liu Bordizzo)
  • Arjun (Dev Patel), a waiter at the Taj Palace who has a family at home
  • Chef Hemant Oberoi (played by Anupam Kher)
  • Vasili (Jason Isaacs), a Russian businessman.

I believe most of the characters are either amalgamations or invented, though writer John Collee and writer/director Anthony Maras spent a year interviewing survivors, including a month stay at the Taj where they talked extensively to the staff.  Chef Oberoi is a real person though, and a hero of the attack. He stayed at the hotel to help the guests and even reopened his restaurant only three weeks after the events, despite the hotel having been bombed and extensively burned. The real Chef Oberoi was at the premiere, and received a standing ovation, along with the cast and crew.

“…Oberoi is a real person…a hero of the attack. He stayed at the hotel to help the guests…

I have mixed feelings about slightly fictionalizing true events, though in this case, it would be impossible to do justice to the true stories of the hundreds of people involved.  I’m on board with the narrative they presented here — it showcases people from a variety of nationalities, both local and guests, and it takes you through the various actions and scenes being played out.  Most importantly, the drama is white-knuckle intense and unrelenting.

I’m astounded that this is director Anthony Maras’ first feature-length film.  He’s a master of building tension through a combination of building up characters that we care about and putting them in horrific jeopardy.  In a typical Hollywood movie, we know our heroes are going to survive. Not so here, and the result is more akin to a horror movie than any traditional drama.  

The film had special resonance for me, because I’ve stayed at the Taj Palace Hotel, and visited many of the sites that were attacked in Mumbai.  The hotel, one of the most famous in the world, has hosted too many presidents, heads of state, and famous people to name. It is renowned for its overwhelming sense of hospitality and service to its guests.  The film captures the spirit of the place, or more accurately, the spirit of the people who work there, perfectly.

One of the things I like most about the Hotel Mumbai is that it doesn’t go out of its way to artificially construct heroes in the way that an American production might have been tempted to do.  People attempt heroic actions and are just gunned down in cold blood. The police are mostly ineffective. In the face of horror like this, your indomitable spirit isn’t going to save you.

“…it doesn’t go out of its way to artificially construct heroes in the way that an American production might…

The cast is great — I can’t say enough about Armie Hammer, Dev Patel, Nazanin Boniadi, Natasha Liu Bordizzo, and Anupam Kher.  These weren’t easy roles, as they had to act fearful, horrified, stoic, and distraught, sometimes all in the same scene. Jason Isaacs does fine work too, but I have to admit that I had a hard time accepting him as a Russian.  It may be that I’m too familiar with his work and I could never quite suspend disbelief. I wish they had cast an actual Russian in the role, but on the other hand, him being in the film is one of the things that made me want to see it.  

No amount of words that can convey the sense of the film, because it is such a gut-punch of emotion.  Experiencing it was so intense that I just couldn’t get into the next movie I was scheduled to see. I had to process Hotel Mumbai.  After the screening, much of the cast felt the same, as they had just seen it for the first time. Dev Patel struggled to answer a very basic question and apologized because he was at a loss for words after that incredibly emotional experience.  

Just go see Hotel Mumbai — you won’t regret it.

Hotel Mumbai (2018) Directed by Anthony Maras. Written by Anthony Maras, John Collee. Starring Armie Hammer, Dev Patel, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Anupam Kher, Jason Isaacs. Hotel Mumbai premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

9 out of 10 stars

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