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.