Director: Anthony Maras
Cast: Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs, Nazanin Boniadi, Anupam Kher
Runtime: 2 hrs 3 mins
Rating: M18 (Mature Content and Some Violence)
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 2 May 2019
Synopsis: A gripping true story of humanity and heroism, HOTEL MUMBAI vividly recounts the 2008 siege of the famed Taj Hotel by a group of terrorists in Mumbai, India. Among the dedicated hotel staff is the renowned chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and a waiter (Academy Award-Nominee Dev Patel, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE, LION) who choose to risk their lives to protect their guests. As the world watches on, a desperate couple (Armie Hammer, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME, ON THE BASIS OF SEX and Nazanin Boniadi, “Counterpart,” “Homeland”) is forced to make unthinkable sacrifices to protect their newborn child.
This biographical thriller film is not an easy one to watch. And rightfully so, because it is based on the 2008 Mumbai attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in India. The luxury hotel is one of the 12 targeted locations of a coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days across Mumbai. At least 174 people died, with more than 300 wounded in this globally condemned terrorist attack. It also claimed the life of a Singaporean who was at The Oberoi Trident, making her the first Singaporean to fall victim in an overseas terror attack
The movie is rated M18 with the consumer advice of “Mature Content and Some Violence”. You can expect strong depictions of violence. The terrorists shoot at hotel guests in a lobby. Hostages are bound and shot. People who try to escape are gunned down indiscriminately. These scenes are not for the faint hearted, and you can only imagine the horror felt by the people experienced this unfortunate incident.
The movie is directed and co written by Australian filmmaker Anthony Maras. The theme of terrorism is never an easy topic to deal with in a mainstream production, and this one doesn’t push the buttons. It contains extreme religious references where the terrorists are manipulated by their leader for ulterior purposes. The movie does not attempt to humanise them too much, and it is clear that their actions shouldn’t be tolerated.
Some may consider this project inspired by the 2009 documentary Surviving Mumbai exploitative. Why is the focus on a luxury hotel where the majority of the victims were wealthy foreigners? The attacks also targeted a railway station, a local cinema, a college, among others. Why does the ensemble cast include Indian actors who have appeared in foreign productions? Dev Patel is known for his roles in Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Lion (2016), while Anupam Kher has appeared in Lust, Caution (2007) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012).
You see, filmmaking is very much a business after all. Certain decisions are considered so that the film can be sold to a global market. This movie’s stakeholders, who include folks from the Australian, American and Indian film industries, have done just that. Not that this is a bad thing, because the screenplay inserts positive messages of how the hotel staff protect guests while risking their own lives. The heroism displayed is much admired. The movie even ends with how the hotel picked itself up after the terrorist attacks.
The 123 minute movie, which also features familiar faces like Armie Hammer (On the Basis of Sex) and Jason Isaacs (The Infiltrator), moves along at a pace that will keep you at the edge of your seats. You will fear for the fates of the protagonists (most of the characters in the movie are based on amalgams of real people who went through the attacks), and feel a sense of dread knowing that things are not going to turn out well.
Packaged as a thriller, this dramatisation of a tragic real life terrorist attack does what it is supposed to do. It is a stark reminder of the very dire consequences of religious extremism, an ideology that should not be embraced.
(A painful and sombre reminder that the horror resulting from religious extremism is still very much present in today’s world)
Review by John Li