“Hotel Mumbai” review: showing the rawness of a crisis

Tala Trad, Memorial Staff Writer

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In 2008, ten members of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Pakistan-based terrorist organization, took siege of the city of Mumbai that lasted four days, committing a series of shootings and bombings that took more than 160 lives. Writer and director Anthony Maras’ Hotel Mumbai focuses on the massacre and hostage situation that occurred at the luxury Taj Mahal Palace Hotel that left 31 dead.

What drew me to this movie was my curiosity on how well it could portray an event of this magnitude. Blockbuster films set outside of the U.S. usually don’t fare well among American audiences. It’s tiring seeing another story whitewashed with the “white savior” conceit and no good representation of the actual occurrences and people affected. Furthermore, when such movies portray Muslims and the Islamic faith, they usually do not resonate with actual Muslims or depict them in a positive light, which becomes even more true if the only Muslim characters are part of a brutal terrorist organization.

It is the conversation afterwards about the perception of Islam that determines if the movie represented the situation and religion well. However, Hotel Mumbai executed that really well and helped to further explain the context of the attacks.

The film humanizes the men who carried out the attack, which has drawn much criticism, with some viewers misinterpreting it as trying to have the audience sympathize with them. In reality, Maras is wanting to show what drives them to to this violent mentality. Hotel Mumbai was able to show the thrilling rawness and high intensity within the hotel under the Lashkar-e-Taiba while remaining sensitive to the story of those affected.

Maras pays tribute to those people through the characters, who are actually amalgams- combinations of the stories from real life survivors. Fictionalizing the characters was done out of respect for those who actually experienced it and also for the sake of making a blockbuster movie combining the stories of many into one effectively maintained the thrill and vehemence that made it an enjoyable movie.

Dev Patel’s character, Arjun, is an amalgam of a waiter and security guard who actually worked at the Taj Hotel at the time of the incident. He gave an incredible dramatic performance, at one point brought tears to my eyes, hitting home in the wake of the Christchurch shootings in March. It was one of the rare times I was able to see a person of color be the hero of the story in a movie of this magnitude.

One feature of this film that stood out was Maras’ use of the raw news footage from the actual events and the dialogue, much of which was taken from phone call and interrogation recordings. I grow tired of the formulaic, fictionalized action movie, so it was refreshing to have a movie that tried to stay true to the original events and be respectful of those affected. Yes, there were some cheesy features every now and then, mainly when it came to writing and dialogue, but that can be attributed to Mara’s limited experience, this being his biggest budgeted film to date. It was moments like that where I was a bit taken back, disappointed in the lazy writing, but it wouldn’t last long before I was thrown back into the action.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the film has picked up enough attention for a good standing during awards season, and its misinterpreted critiques are probably what’s keeping most people from watching it. Its respectable ability to stay true to the story, its frightening exhilaration and great band of actors make this one of my favorite movies of the year so far.

Contact Tala Trad at [email protected]