Locally, Anthony Maras’ debut feature film Hotel Mumbai should be considered a huge achievement for the South Australian Film Industry. Featuring an international cast with some well-known names, perhaps the reason it has a comparatively large a platform overseas, the film is a well-acted and polished endeavour.
Based on the 2009 documentary Surviving Mumbai, which explored the infamous Mumbai attacks of 2008, the film is an incredibly realistic recreation of the terrorist attack on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. In order to convincingly achieve this feat, Maras poured through intercepted phone conversations and witness statements.
Told from multiple points of views, including a waiter Arjun (Dev Patel) and hotel guests David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), the film details what occurred when terrorist infiltrated the hotel under the radio instructions of a mysterious man known as ‘The Bull.’ Over the course of the film, Maras shows how Arjun and brave head cook Oberoi (Anupam Kher) used their knowledge of the large hotel, and risked their lives, to protect the swarm of people trying to evade their attackers.
As the stone-faced terrorists are willing to die for their cause, it allows for many disconcerting moments in the film. Maras create a tense atmosphere through simply shots of the men casually walking through the corridors of the hotel with assault rifles in hand. As the film drifts between the multiple story strands unfolding, the lush hotel itself becomes a place of dread and unease.
As tense as the film is, it would have been nice if the characters had more depth. Outside of Arjun, no character is particularly memorable as their backgrounds and personalities are barely explored. The emotionless terrorists stick with the audience simply due to the fear they evoke.
Interestingly, the film makes point to comment on how differences in race and/or religion dissipates when humans are forced into a situation like this. This gives us plenty of questions to chew on. Are tragic events the only types of situations where any person, no matter their creed, can bond with those around them on a true human level? A depressing notion, but it is there.
Hotel Mumbai is one of the best films to recreate the haunting nature of a terrorist attack in recent years. Everything from the its pacing to its scenes of terror, which are hard to watch at times, keep the viewer on their toes. It leaves the audience with the pervading question that lingers over most of the film: what would I have done in that situation?