After the serial bomb blast in 1993, which killed 257 people and injured over 1,400 people, Bombay, which was never the same again, got back on its feet the next day. It was a sheer display of grit and resilience, and the world marvelled at its spirit. But 15 years later, in the 2008 terror attack, which unfolded in a few places in south Mumbai, the wounds went deep since this was a different beast altogether.
It was a prolonged nightmare with an inadequate police force dealing with 10 young heavily armed Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists shooting at will and hurling grenades to inflict maximum damage. What was chilling was the fact that they were remote controlled by a handler sitting far away, telling them how to set fire to the rooms in one of the sites of their attack – the Taj Mahal Hotel, and to keep killing people, promising them that heaven awaits.
In all this mayhem, stories of sacrifice were rife, including that of the braveheart Tukaram Omble, the assistant sub-inspector who overpowered terrorist Ajmal Kasab despite being pumped with bullets in his stomach. In the Taj Mahal hotel, which was under siege for more than three days, with no outside help forthcoming for some time (NSG commandos who were to be flown in from UP got delayed), many of the hotel staff galvanised into action to save lives.
A 2013 film, ‘Hotel Mumbai’, written and directed by Anthony Maras, (currently streaming on Zee5), sets the film around those nightmarish 72 hours inside the Mumbai’s iconic, upscale Taj Mahal hotel. It turns the spotlight on the bravery shown by the hotel staff at that time. Anupam Kher plays Chef Hemant Oberoi in the film, (he does it with dignity and restraint) who had helped calm down panicking guests and managed to evacuate them from the hotel at the risk of his own life. He is supported in this film by a fictitious Sikh waiter called Arjun (Dev Patel). Through them, the film explores the fear, horror, and the ruthless killing by the Pakistani terrorists, and tells the story of the people that shepherded a few through their worst nightmare.
Among the guests are a newly-married couple (played by the ‘Call Me by Your Name’ actor Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi) with an infant child and nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), a Russian businessman (Jason Isaacs), a backpacker and his girlfriend. Patel, Kher, Hammer, Boniadi effectively capture the desperation, the fear and the sacrifice. Not only is the film based on the Emmy-nominated 2009 documentary ‘Surviving Mumbai’ (told entirely from the perspective of the survivors) the makers also got access to the transcripts of the original phone conversations between the hotel staff and rescue team.
‘Hotel Mumbai’ is a well-made film (some may disagree since it feeds of an unspeakable human tragedy) and offers a slice of what happened that unforgettable night. Maybe, it serves as a haunting reminder of what people went through and how ordinary people risked their lives to save others.
For Dev Patel, the film was about the “unlikely heroes” of this hotel. According to him, the beauty of this story is that it brings out the “humanity” of the hotel staff whom most tend to ignore and don’t bother to give them a second look. The film was however criticised for showing the young terrorists not as brainwashed, cold-blooded savages but young confused boys who had embarked on this bloody task prompted by dire circumstances. One report suggested that this is probably why Netflix dropped the idea of streaming the film after announcing the acquisition in 2018.
Terror in Mumbai
But Fareed Zakaria’s ‘Terror in Mumbai’, a HBO documentary (available on YouTube) narrated by him, too takes a more sympathetic view of the terrorists. After damming Lashkar-e-Taiba for enlisting young Pakistani peasant boys to fight jihad, he urges authorities to help these young men to rise above their helplessness and choose life not death.
India may have a problem with this theory but the documentary focusses on how the entire operation was conducted by the terrorists, and how India fumbled with inadequate resources to counter the attack at first. The documentary unfolds through eyewitness interviews (watch one survivor talk about how the bodies fell on him and how he had to climb over them and pools of blood to get out) and makes use of hours of intercepted telephone conversations between the 10 gunmen and their controllers. “This time you are with the terrorists,” says Zakaria in a sombre tone.
Zakaria recounts that authorities intercepted 284 calls made by ‘brother Wasim’, who did not loosen his grip over the young men until they were dead. They seemed mesmerised as they followed his instructions at every step. Zakaria warns that this method of attack can be easily adapted to any American city. But as a foreign newspaper report pointed out, in America, police backup may not take a day or two to arrive!
On the 13th anniversary of this horrific attack on India’s commercial capital Mumbai, there are other fictional films available online such as Ram Gopal Verma’s ‘Attacks of 26/11’ made in 2013, which is also available on Eros Now and YouTube. Besides being castigated for visiting the hotel site along with the then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh shortly after the massacre, Verma was panned for showing unnecessary gore and making a “tasteless” film. However, it had a masterful performance by Nana Patekar, who plays controversial Mumbai cop Rakesh Maria.
Big brother is here
Meanwhile, without much fanfare, Rajinikanth’s Diwali offering, ‘Annaathe’ surprisingly landed on Netflix and SunNxt. Interestingly, the film has started streaming on digital platforms just 20 days after its release. One can only take a wild guess as to why the producers decided to take the call. While some news reports quoting a trade analyst Manobala Vijayabalan claim the film opened well and finally made ₹200 crore from theatre collections worlwide, others have said that it crossed just ₹40 crores, what with the heavy rains in Tamil Nadu pouring water over filmgoers’ plans to visit cinemas. Whatever the reason, diehard Rajnikanth fans are thrilled they can get to watch the film many times on OTT.
It is a typical masala film, peppered with lots of Rajinism – the fiery grand entry, the pithy one-liners, the swagger, the comic scenes, the music and the dance, a side-kick Pachaikili (Soori), are all there. Also, Rajini quite simply continues to single-handedly bash up a group of bad guys. As he famously said in one of his blockbusters, ‘Only pigs come in a herd, the lion comes alone’, and that’s true here too.
But the fireworks and energy is missing. Rajnikanth seems to be mechanically dishing out the lines with all the customary head flips and emotes with no real conviction. The flimsy plot based on a brother-sister bond which moves from a village Soorakottai in Tamil Nadu to Kolkata, does not help either. Rajini, Nayanthara (who is desperately trying to hold her own in a film where the heroine is, well, just a prop) and Keerthy Suresh flail around trying to lift the movie.
The villains, especially Jagapathi Raju, cannot be taken seriously since his character just howls and glares menacingly into the camera. There are some gags in the first half and the song ‘Mardaani…’(music by D Immam) has a good tempo and is picturised well. The director Siruthai Siva (who made Ajith’s actions drama like ‘Vedhalam’ and ‘Vivegam’) should know that having a trump card like Rajinikanth is not enough. Sigh, when will they realise that the entertainment landscape has irrevocably changed forever?
Drushyam 2 in Telugu
Just when you thought you had enough of remakes of ‘Andhadhun’, here’s a Telugu version of another popular movie filmmakers love – Jeetu Joseph’s Drishyam 1 and 2. In this Telugu remake of the sequel of Drishyam, which is incidentally made by Joseph and cinematographer Satish Kurup, Telugu superstar Venkatesh plays Ramababu, who along with his family have to live in the shadow of the crime that happened six years ago on a fateful night.
This remake is meant to be faithful scene-by-scene recreation of the Malayalam movie. Rambabu, who has become successful after opening a cinema theatre, has to contend with jealousy and live each day in fear of being caught.
Geeta and Prabhakar, the parents who lost their son are still hovering around waiting for justice, and the police are desperate to solve the puzzle.
There are unexpected twists that keep Ramababu on his toes and Venkatesh holds his own which has a nail-biting, yet emotional, climax. Will Rambabu be able to protect his family again this time? We all know the answer to that question.