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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hotel Mumbai

Bombay (Mumbai) will not forget 26 November 2008. Ten jihadis from Pakistan launched an unprecedented attack on the city that lasted for four days. The Lakshar-e-Taiba trained jihadis attacked 12 places, killed 164 and wounded over 300 citizens of the city. Pakistan had once again exposed the utter vulnerability and gross inability of the Indian state to fight terrorism. The November 2008 attack was on a scale similar to the 1993 serial bomb blast masterminded by Bombay’s underworld and supported by Pakistan.

There were innumerable heroes in those four days in November 2008, some like police officers Vijay Salaskar and Hemant Karkare were acknowledged for their bravery (although controversies surround their deaths), many remain unknown, unsung, unremembered except by their families.  

Given its association with Bombay, the Pakistani men who masterminded and controlled the attack focused on the Taj Mahal hotel

The Taj is a popular Bombay landmark, facing the Arabian Sea, located beside the Gateway of India. Jamsetji Tata built it in 1903 because he was not allowed to enter the ‘Whites Only’ Watson’s Hotel. Another wing – the new Taj – as it’s called was built in 1973. Incidentally, the Gateway of India came up nearly a decade later in 1911 to commemorate the arrival of the King and Queen of England to India in 1912.

Four jihadis took charge of the hotel and systematically began to shoot the guests. The Indian and global media descended on Apollo Bunder and gave live coverage to the carnage as it happened. It took nearly two days for the lethargic Indian state to respond to the attack and it was only on the fourth day that it was able to restore order.

It’s nearly a decade since 26/11, and finally, there’s a feature film on the attack on the Taj. Anthony Maras directed Hotel Mumbai is a relentless film. It gives no respite to the viewer from the grim situation inside the hotel that gets progressively worse. Its depiction of the attack is graphic and adopts a documentary/television news format. 

Jointly written by John Collee and Maras, the film depicts the gallant efforts of the hotel’s staff to save the lives of the hotel’s guests. The story centres on a group of about 50 guests who are holed up in the Chambers Lounge of the hotel, where the members of the hotel’s staff try to save them from the four jihadis who have taken control of the hotel.

The four jihadis are Panjabi-speaking young men, sent on a suicide mission with the usual promise of eternal bliss in Paradise. They are constantly brainwashed over their cell phones by their masters in Pakistan into executing orders with coldblooded precision.

One of them, Imran (Amandeep Singh), who shoots all but one hostage, dies disillusioned because he discovers that his masters didn’t keep the promise of paying large sums of money to his family. He doesn’t kill one hostage because she starts reciting the Salah.  

Anupam Kher, who plays the role of the chief chef (Hemant Oberoi) of the hotel, leads the effort in which Dev Patel, who plays the role of a Sikh steward (Arjun), assists him. The other important characters include an interracial family American husband (David – Armie Hammer) and Iranian wife (Zahra – Nazanin Boniadi) with their nanny (Sally – Tilda Cobham-Hervey, who miraculously saves the couple’s baby in the attack. Jason Issacs plays Vasili, a debaucherous Russian intelligence official, who turns into a hero.  (See other credits here: Full Cast & Crew

There are innumerable scenes in the film that are memorable and heart wrenching. Hotel Mumbai is a taut thriller that retains the audience’s interest until it reaches its denouement, even though all that happens is now part of history.

For me, who can’t help but be a Bombayite (or Mumbaikar, if you will), the 2008 attack on Bombay was cathartic. I had left the city forever four months ago to make Toronto my home. My new home had yet to accept me; Mahrukh and I were struggling to make ends meet.

I remember that night in November when I was on m security guard duty at the condo on Heath Street when Howard Karel, a homeowner, came rushing from the gym and said, “Your home is under attack. It’s live on CNN, go see the news.” He offered to wait at the security desk as I rushed down to the gym to watch the news.

We didn’t have a TV at home then but had a discounted subscription to the Toronto Star, which reported the attack. Earlier in November, I’d bought a radio to get the news of the historic Obama election. But both the radio and the newspaper were inadequate. The lack of access to news of such an unprecedented event created a strange vacuum in our lives.  

The absence of steady and detailed news led me to spend hours on the internet, scrounging for information. The attack acquired such significance to our lives then that it found its way into my novel Belief.

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