This would be one of the rare instances where I would post more than once on a given week. Since I wasn’t able to blog last week, I am making up for the lost opportunity. Just yesterday afternoon Dave and I trooped to the cinemas to catch Hotel Mumbai. I was supposed to see Captain Marvel with Nick on Tuesday but had to take a rain check due to the cold. Although I only caught snippets of the trailer, the premise of Mumbai looked intriguing. That it was based on real events also upped its appeal.
Plot in brief
Dev Patel returns after notable stints in Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and Lion (2017). Frankly, he’s been typecast as ‘the Indian guy’. Incidentally, I saw all three movies with David. The film tells the events of the November 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. We get to know various entities, from the terrorists themselves to the staff at the fabled Taj Hotel, from the visitors of the place to the psyche of an entire city. We see the Hotel transformed from a jewel to the site of a siege that lasts eight hours. A city is in the grip of extremists, waiting for help that would never seem to arrive. Meanwhile, staff at the posh venue try to calm down their clients. Even when help seems out of hand, they remain cool and help as best they can. Outside is uncertain; they only have each other in here.
What struck me about Mumbai was the realism. You could hear the chatter, the cries, the drama, the volley of gunfire. While there is little actual gore, there’s no shortage of blood and injuries. More violence indeed is implied than foregrounded. The chases among captor and hostage, the layers of the terrorists themselves…. Critics have even labelled as this realism as ‘exploitation’. There is a unique cast of characters in this unfolding tragedy, from the overbearing Russian, Vassili (Jason Isaacs), all the way to Arjun (Patel), the staffer who couldn’t afford a pair of shoes. Isaacs, of Lucius Malfoy fame, delivers a gritty performance as the fearless outsider.Meanwhile, Arjun wasn’t supposed to work on the fateful day, but convinced Oberoi, his boss, that he had to, for his pregnant wife. Arjun’s bravery is highlighted throughout the picture, and his presence really made a huge difference during the struggle.
Meanwhile, the terrorists are in a different league. After destroying the train station, they fan out to the streets and even target policemen. From the start, they are downright detestable. They have orders from above to wreak havoc on the city. As the denizens flee to the Taj, they do likewise, eat pizza, and barge onto unsuspecting guests. The magic of cinema is in drawing out your senses. You feel for the victims and hate their assailants more and more after every casualty. You likewise became impatient as the arrival of the special forces from Delhi appeared more unlikely by each passing hour. Hotel Mumbai was like a melting pot of these emotions.
Raw, powerful, and good
The movie is very raw and powerful, not just because of the extremists, but also the players involved. I’ve seen my share of movies this year and I had to single out this one for its gripping tale of truth. Mumbai was presented as a city of hopers and believers, of Good Samaritans, as the locus of the brave. Hotel Mumbai was not only moving; the movie was a nexus between Old World and New World, between authority and defiance, science and faith. There were many moments when the language and religion barrier was too stiff, even among the protagonists themselves. I recall one scene during the siege where a Western guest singled out Arjun because of his turban. His response to this seemed saintly. However, the movie inspired a measure of predictability. You kind of knew that good will win in the end. My chum called it a good movie. I would say so, too. Bonus points for being a real-life story, for portraying it the right way with the precise mix of heroes and villains. Hard hitting and effective, Hotel Mumbai paints the canvas with heavy measures of veracity.