– THE MUMBAI NEWS –
A FILM BASED ON EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE IN NOVEMBER 2008
IN CINEMA 29 MARCH 2019
In November 2008, jihadists from Pakistan staged a series of devastating terror attacks across Mumbai, hurling India’s most populous city into utter chaos. During the three-day standoff, these gunmen seized the legendary Taj Mahal Palace Hotel with over 500 guests and employees trapped inside.
A searing, immersive cinematic experience, HOTEL MUMBAI focuses on the events that transpired at the legendary Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, targeted as the pre-eminent symbol of Indian progress and diversity. In the thick of the maelstrom, people from many different countries, cultures, creeds and social classes must find a way to organize and escape in the face of constant peril.
Among the hotel staff is renowned chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and a gentle Sikh waiter (Dev Patel), who risk everything to protect their guests. And as the world media watches on, a desperate couple (Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi) make unthinkable sacrifices to defend their newborn child, while a steely Russian millionaire (Jason Isaacs) seems only interested in protecting himself.
HOTEL MUMBAI draws audiences into the epicenter of the attack and highlights ordinary people from all walks of life whose responses to this nightmarish scenario reveal the courage and resilience that unite us when we need it most. In gripping, realistic detail, the film speaks to the humanity that shines from within the tragedy.
So unthinkable was the notion that the Taj could ever be a place of danger, that people in the streets of Mumbai instinctively flocked to the hotel for protection once the attacks began. “The Taj will keep us safe” was the initial response of many survivors of the siege. During the grueling, days-long fight for survival, hotel guests and staff were shot at, bombed and hunted through corridors, suites, ballrooms, and restaurants.
“It’s easy to be be overwhelmed by the horror of what occurred at the Taj,” says Maras. “But when you take a closer look, a different perspective emerges. There were over five hundred 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.”
Maras remains awestruck by the many examples of bravery to emerge from the attacks: “Taj kitchen workers stuffed baking trays under their shirts, makeshift bulletproof vests, as they shielded patrons from machine-gun fire. Guests lowered fellow travellers out of windows using ropes made of knotted bed sheets. Some Taj staff members led others through hidden corridors to safety outside, only to re-enter the hotel and look for more people to save.”
Three weeks following the attacks, Chef Oberoi and his team reopened the first of his restaurants inside the bombed out hotel. “The signal was strong and clear,” says Maras. “They were saying, ‘We will not be cowed. We refuse to live in fear. We refuse to mistrust others different from ourselves. Arm in arm, we will strive on forward together.’”
Chef Oberoi adds, “We just needed to tell all these terrorist organizations that we are not deterred by these things. We will bounce back as fast as possible. Because that is what we do.”
Now 64, Chef Oberoi has retired from the Taj but keeps very busy with a new namesake restaurant in Mumbai, plus ventures in Singapore, New Delhi and San Diego, and appearances on his own TV cooking show.
Listening to the firsthand accounts of Chef Oberoi and others strongly influenced the approach Maras would take to telling the story. He was especially struck by the fact that many of the Taj staff came from impoverished backgrounds. “For them working at the Taj wasn’t just a job,” he says. “It was the promise of a better life. It’s an intense source of pride, being part of something that represents the greatness India is capable of.”
For Boniadi, the scene that most powerfully conveys that message is one in which Zahra is held at gunpoint by one of the terrorists, who intends to kill her. Quietly, she begins to recite a Muslim prayer. “That was both physically and emotionally grueling,” the actress says. “But I love what it’s saying: Extremism breeds extremism, hate begets hate. Here is this woman who with her stillness and her resolve is breaking through evil. She’s facing the gunman straight in the eye. And she is overcoming him with the same verses from the Koran that they’ve both learned, but are interpreting in opposite ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as showing someone a different path. And that’s such a crucial message for audiences today.”
Discussing the scene between Zahra and the gunman, Maras adds, “It was so important to us that the young gunman’s story culminates when he comes face-to-face with not just a woman, but a woman of the Islamic faith. He goes into that hotel thinking his mission is just, firmly believing in what he’s doing, having a moral code that he lives by. And when she stands up to him and recites the prayer, and he’s ordered to kill her anyway—that’s when he realizes the hypocrisy of his mission.
He realises he’s been sold a lie.”
For three days and nights in 2008—from November 26 to 29—Mumbai was a city under siege. Arriving from Pakistan via a hijacked fishing vessel, a squad of young jihadists rained terror upon the population with a coordinated series of shooting and bombing attacks. With local police forces stretched thin, terrified locals and tourists scampered for refuge as Mumbai went up in flames.
By the time the carnage ended, more than 170 people from over a dozen countries had been killed. Targets around the city included a popular restaurant, a train station, a hospital, a movie theater, three hotels, and a Jewish community center. Mumbai had been permanently shaken. In India, the tragic events are known simply by the date they began: 26/11.
Ten years later, Greek-Australian filmmaker Anthony Maras can still recall his initial reaction to the wave of horror as it was breaking on television across the world. “Obviously I was heartbroken over the violence and loss of life,” he says. “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.”