Humanity amid the Mumbai hotel horror

| Agence France-Presse 12 Sep 2018

A hard-to-watch telling of the 2008 attacks in Mumbai in Anthony Maras's Hotel Mumbai provoked tears and cheers at its world premiere at the Toronto film festival.

It is an "anthem of resistance," the Australian director declared at a press conference.

"You had a whole lot of people from every conceivable background, racial, ethnic, from different socioeconomic groups who came together in the face of real adversity to survive," Maras said.

The film received a standing ovation over the weekend for its searing, vivid dramatization of the events at the opulent Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, targeted by Lashkar-e-Taiba militants.

It was also praised by critics for its empathetic portrayal of both the victims and the perpetrators.

Armie Hammer, who plays an American guest of the hotel, said: "The script was dripping in humanity. You see the toll the attack has on the guests and the staff of the hotel, but you also see it, really for the first time that I can think of, on the actual perpetrators."

Jason Isaacs, cast as a Russian guest of the hotel, urged watching it with others in a cinema, saying it "connects you with other people and to recognize your common humanity."

The hotel siege was part of a coordinated series of attacks in India's most populous city which left more than 160 dead and hundreds wounded.

The film includes television footage of the attacks, as well as excerpts of interviews by the filmmaker of the survivors.

Maras was granted access to transcripts of intercepted calls between the 10 attackers and their handlers, as well as a video confession from the trial of the only surviving gunman. This included a handler telling one of the attackers to leave his phone on throughout the assault so that he might hear the victims' screams.

For days, the staff and guests of the hotel were on their own as police were outgunned.

Maras said the hotel staff stuffed baking trays and saucepans down their shirts to use as shielding, and armed themselves with rolling pins and kitchen knives.

"At a time when people are becoming so divided over so many different lines, to have this story where all these people are coming together selflessly to help each other... they were there for one another," he commented.

Dev Patel had just finished acting in his first feature film Slumdog Millionaire when the violence in Mumbai was splashed live across television news channels around the world.

"To come back off this amazing journey [to India] and enter my house in London and see my parents looking at the television screen, watching the city essentially burn, it was very difficult," he said.

The hotel was completely restored by 2010.

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