“ Hotel Mumbai”

The  most arresting thing about the film “Hotel Mumbai” is that the actual cell phone calls made by the terrorist mastermind are used verbatim. To hear the psychological ploys used in this kind of brainwashing enlightens us. We hear “ You feel strong. You feel calm. Paradise awaits you, ” and we are chilled. By the time we see twelve or more young zealots with backpacks jump from a small rowboat like vessel, we are ready for the enactment of true events. “ Remember your training. The whole world is watching”, echoes and appalls.

While it feels rather sacrilegious watching a true disaster enfold, the suspense/entertainment factor is quickly overridden by the Indian staff’s heroics in putting their guests’ lives first. The body count is documented at one-hundred and seventy-four souls. Over half are  staff members trying to shepherd their guests to safety.

One of the most harrowing scenes was of young security women at first ordered to call a room and lie that help was on the way. Once the  terrorists rapid fire could be heard, the guards refused to call another room; and they are sacrificed to the cause.

The terrorists are shown as pawns. Their cell phones are billeted with propaganda.” Look at what they have stolen from you, from your grandfathers. Remember your training.” Likewise, the hotel staff is humanized. Dev Patel is a Sikh waiter with an infant daughter and a pregnant wife, whose sister does not show up to babysit. Rushed to change plans, he forgets his polished shoes and is almost dismissed from his shift when he shows up in socks and sandals. Various other hotel staff members are introduced , and we begin to admire the leadership of the head chef, Hermant Oderoi. Anupam Kher of the medical television series “ New Amsterdam” plays Oderoi. Some actual footage of the 2008 terrorist attack is used.

The Hotel Mumbai guests are introduced like in most disaster films. Their major personality strengths and flaws are highlighted. Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi are the married couple bringing their infant and amah to the luxury hotel. They are greeted with leis and invocations of “namaste” as they settle into perfectly regulated bath water temperatures and floating flower petals. The other world luxury of champagne and white gloves is juxtaposed against the young terrorists seeing a flush toilet for the first time. The disparity of creature comforts is starkly made.

The suspense is  relentless. Who will survive and who will die ? What would we do in similar circumstances ? One no-no everyone in the theatre would agree on would be the unpreparedness of the amah, or nanny. Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Sally. She has no pacifier or bottle and never thinks just to open her blouse as a means of quieting a baby.

Anthony Maras is the debut director of this Australian-Indian-U.S. film. It is violent and has a video-game quality that is alarming. The random killing is loud and then punctuated by eerie silence.

All the while we are reminded that “ the guest is God”. Whip cream is piped on plates as we hear “none deserve Allah’ s mercy.” Over 1,000 guests and 500 staff members are trapped and under siege. The Indian Special Forces are all in New Delhi hours away. One jihadist calls  home to tell his father and sister that he loves them. A hostage recalls a saying to quash fear: “ Don’t be afraid to jump, you just may fly.”

Six hours of hide and seek, grenade throwing, fires and explosions, and media intrusions leave viewers exhausted. The final Muslim prayer said by the grief-stricken Zahara will stay with you, and so will the mastermind’s  “Be brave m my lions”. Not for the faint of heart.

“The Big Sick”

When a come-on-line is “What’s your name, and would you like to see it in Urdu?”, we smile. When an allusion to the “X-Files” (our male star’s favorite series) is made by a potential Pakistani bride’s screams of “the truth is out there” , we laugh out loud! With a tone that will remind you of “My Big, Fat,Greek Wedding”, “The Big Sick” is an equally silly title with a spirited foray into another’s cultural norms.

Comic Kumail Nanjiani is the boyfriend of Emily (Zoe Kazan). Written by Nanjiani and his real wife, Emily Gordon, the film is semi-autobiographical. They are attracted to each other, hook up, and are fearful of steady dating. They break-up and Emily, who is studying to be a therapist, develops an infection in most of her vital organs. She is put into an induced coma after her ex-boyfriend’s signs the consent form. When Emily’s parents arrive in Chicago, they treat Kumail like the cad who broke their daughter’s heart. He wins them over with his steadfast devotion at her sick bed.

Holly Hunter and Ray Romano play Emily’s parents, Beth and Terry. Their chemistries are well-matched: Hunter more high-strung to Romano’s laconic vibe. Her fight with a comedy club heckler is value laden. Kumail’s retort to Beth’s question of if the prejudice is always like this is fashioned into a joke: ” Usually a different mom comes in to help me.”

“The Big Sick” is well-paced, well-acted, and clever. The fact that it is also heartfelt makes it worth seeing. It is a romantic comedy with serious issues. The parents of both of our stars play key roles. Fidelity and parental expectations and imminent death are interwoven themes. The tone is kept both suspenseful, yet light, which is hard to do. Expert use of irony and understatement propel the format. One of my favorite understatements being Kumail’s: ” I like my jokes thoroughly explained”.

The communication between the parents and the young adults is honest and loving, yet fraught with conflict. It reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons that has a young couple sitting at a table with eyes locked over their wine glasses:” Before this goes any further, I should let you know that I have parents.”

One conversations comes after the sacrifices Kumail’s parents have made for him in coming to America is broached. He thanks his father and then asks why he was brought to America if his parents wished him to live a Pakistani life. His father, played beautifully by Anupam Kher, responds with his own question: “You think this American Dream is just getting what you want?” The next scene where Kumail orders at ” The Quick and Hot ” drive-in keeps the laughs ironing out the frustrations. Enjoy Kumail’s bag of devotions, especially the photo ashes of his mother’s bridal attempts. Zenobia Schroff is memorable as Kumail’s mother.

Director Michael Showalter does a great job of bringing us ” ghosting” mothers, teary fathers, and the possibility of a world in which cultural mixing can make for a fresh world, and maybe even peace in the Middle East.