It’s been 11 years since I had my exams cancelled and was instructed to not leave the house. At age 12, I didn’t quite comprehend what was going on as the city was swept with terror. Anyone who was in Mumbai at the time would remember where they were and what they were going through. I skipped the 2013 Bollywood film “The Attacks of 26/11” by none other than Ram Gopal Verma. Who wants to relive this incident anyway? Especially if you were following the news and know what happened. However, 6 years later, I was drawn to the casting of Dev Patel and Armie Hammer along with the encouraging reviews to check out Hotel Mumbai.
Hotel Mumbai is set to the backdrop of the Taj during the attacks. It focuses on how the hotel’s staff took every measure to help and protect its guests. It isn’t particularly interested in the larger context of the attack, or its ramifications on the city as a whole. There are films that succeed in making the city that they are set in feel like a character. Mumbai deserved such treatment in this film but that’s not the story they’ve chosen to tell. The film blends fact and fiction. We mainly follow the characters of a hotel staff member played by Dev Patel and a foreigner visiting with his family played by Armie Hammer.
The film does an excellent job of capturing the fear and the ticking time bomb nauseating sensation that those stranded within the hotel would have felt. It is brutal and unflinching in its depiction of the acts of terrorism. It makes you shudder to think of how you would’ve reacted in place of any of the protagonists. Crisply shot and very well edited to create multiple moments of edge of seat tension, the technical prowess is on full display. The camera and sound work very well together in these instances to truly make you feel like you’re there. All elements come together to successfully convey a sense of claustrophobia, hopelessness, and desperation on occasion.
Hotel Mumbai, unfortunately, isn’t as effective when it comes to creating compelling characters. While I understand the film didn’t want to spend too long on fleshing out backstories, it reduces characters to being quite one note. A Russian character, for example, is basically just every stereotype with no distinct personality. While our protagonists aren’t as offensively done, they still aren’t very interesting. A premise that hinges on these characters lives being at stake should have more effort put into developing them into people you care for. There is some effort put into humanizing the terrorists and offering a snapshot of their mindsets.
Performances are solid though unexceptional all across the board. Everyone does well and gets a few memorable moments though no one really stands out. Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, and Anupam Kher are as good as you’d expect. The surprises for me were the strong performances by the two female leads that I’d never heard of – Nazanin Boniadi and Tilda Cobham-Hervey.
Despite my issues with it, Hotel Mumbai is a competently made and engrossing film that succeeds in lending a new perspective to the tragedy of 26/11 and creating edge of seat tension. Check it out!