Hotel Mumbai | Teen Ink

Hotel Mumbai

October 24, 2021
By ROY07 PLATINUM, Hyderabad, Other
ROY07 PLATINUM, Hyderabad, Other
22 articles 0 photos 6 comments

Favorite Quote:
"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best day and night to make you like everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight and never stop fighting."
- E.E. Cummings

Writer-director-editor Anthony Maras’ feature-film debut Hotel Mumbai (2018) is an action drama based on the real-life 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai. This Indian-Australian-American co-production is a cinematic spectacle and is bound to electrify the audience's nerves with its impeccable portrayal of tragic suspense. But, unfortunately, that's all it has to offer. Like all stories adapted from true tragedies, two questions always ponder in our minds- does this do justice to the trauma experienced by the victims, or is it an over-dramatization of the real-life accounts? However, this film seems to be stuck somewhere in between.

The screenwriters- Maras and John Collee- often fail to generate a profound psychological reaction. There are plenty of intimate character moments scattered throughout this 2 hours 3 min movie that has the potential to enthrall the viewers. But this fast-paced narrative's failure to restrain from the action-heavy thrill corrupts our visceral bond with the film’s characters.

The story commences with ten Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists as they effortlessly invade the city of Mumbai and slaughter the masses with merciless grenades and gunfire. Meanwhile, a Taj Hotel worker Arjun (Dev Patel), bargains for his shift with Chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) - the only character with a real-life counterpart. A British heiress (Nazanin Boniadi) and her American husband (Armie Hammer) check-in into the esteemed resort on that fateful day with their infant and his nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey).  A potent sense of hopelessness daunts our thoughts as we witness the terrorists execute their strategic plan and engulf the whole city, including the Taj, for four long days.

The Taj hosts daily-wage earning peons and multi-millionaire aristocrats, all under the same majestic roof.  It metaphorically serves as an inclusive representation of the class differences in Indian society. When the militants break into this opulent hotel and march on a brutal killing spree, the existential crisis threatens the lives of rich and poor alike. The movie's grueling thematic spine stands on this uncanny reality, and bullets do not discriminate.

The perpetual peril screams through the vast hallways of the hotel with an alarming body count. The editors, Peter McNulty and Mars, cleverly crosscut with original news footage to evoke an appealing comprehension of the script’s brooding theme. Their collaboration bagged them the AACTA Award for Best Editing in 2019.

Nick Remy Matthews' sublime cinematography adds gravitas to the bone-chilling suspense that dominates the movie- and pretty much the only part where the script excels with finesse. His hand-held camera shots and narrow frames accentuate the claustrophobic exasperation the attack induces in the film's characters. He captures the catastrophic consequences of the terrorist invasion so brilliantly that the horrifyingly bloody aftermath leaves us staggered.

The movie boldly showcases the valiant ordinary hotel staff who laid down their lives to protect survivors by their policy- "guest is God." These dramatically filmed scenes are the most astonishing moments of the story. They highlight the courage demonstrated by these real-life heroes.

Boniadi’s finesse acting dazzles throughout her screen time. The script seems over-rushed, but her performance fleshes out her dialogue and furnishes an authentic experience.

Patel’s exhilarating performance as Arjun truly embodies every corner of his personality. His expressions dictate the pounding sense of inevitable disaster. However, one of the biggest misfires of this story is his character arc. Maras steers clear from the white-savior trope and manifests him as the sole protagonist, but he still seems noticeably wasted. The writers bind him with immensely conflicting dilemmas and insurmountable obstacles that push him to a near emotional breakdown. But they fail to resonate all of this in our hearts. The script is impuissant at respecting some of its most crucial aspects and feels like an overtly graphic war tale with a hollow artistic core.

Hotel Mumbai also aims at dismantling Islamophobic misconceptions. It portrays terrorists as impoverished teens who are being merely misguided by religious propaganda and sham contracts. This realistically creative choice yearns to draw the audience's sympathy in its mission to humanize them. But the script precludes itself from zeroing in on their emotionally vulnerable psyche and denies us a cathartic experience. There are moments when the film is a slow burn, and it desperately tries to fathom its theme.

In short- this movie is the ideal popcorn-flick only for action lovers and audiences who cherish ultra-plot-driven thrillers with scarcely feeble character arcs. Its terrifying and tragic sequences are occasionally enough to keep our eyes glued on the screen in scintillating anticipation.

The author's comments:

It will surely rekindle horrifying memories of terror attacks experienced by the people of Mumbai on November 26, 2008. But a film born out of such a grave and uncanny real-life tale deserves to be more than just an over-the-top action thrill. It deserves to touch people's hearts with a poignant reminder of the past. Sadly, all this seems a bit too rushed and too misplaced in Hotel Mumbai.

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