An unknown Bull masterminds terrorist attack in the Taj

An unknown Bull masterminds terrorist attack in the Taj

‘Hotel Mumbai’ recounts gruesome days of November 2008

Nevil Gibson

Mass shootings of innocent people have been on everyone’s minds over the past few weeks.

Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, have been heavily criticised for their role in spreading various video material. On the other hand, they have also enabled communities throughout the world to share in grief, condolences and ways to prevent future tragedies.

Inept treatment

The movies, as the mainstream form of filmed entertainment, have long tackled the subject of terrorism but not always in the most sensitive way that many now demand of the media in general.

It was barely noticed that two films in release at the time of the March 15 shootings in Christchurch contained similar scenes to those that happened in real life.

One, Vox Lux, depicts a fictional school shooting at the start and later another one on a resort beach. Both were critical to the film’s development of a central character twisted by her survival of the first event and her music as an inspiration for the second.

Terrorists from Pakistan

The second film, Hotel Mumbai (Icon), is a recreation of actual events in late November 2008.

A heavily armed group of 10 radical Islamist terrorists from Pakistan arrive in Mumbai harbour in a small boat with the intention of killing as many civilians as possible.

Far from being “lone wolf” characters acting out internet-fed conspiracy notions and hate-filled ideology, they are disciplined and under orders to carry out a suicide mission in the name of the extremist organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba.

They spread out over India’s most populated city, attacking the railway station initially and then other targets that include a Jewish community centre and St Xavier’s College.

The film follows just four of them as, first, they shoot up a café and then join the terrified crowds who are seeking shelter in the lobby of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. It is considered one of world’s most luxurious hotels and is certainly one of Mumbai’s most imposing architectural creations.

Orders from the ‘Bull’

Nothing is revealed of the young men’s backgrounds, but they are constantly in touch by phone with their minder, known as The Bull, back in Pakistan.

At this point, key personnel from the hotel and some guests are introduced. They provide the other side of the drama – the hosts who have become hostages as the gunmen systematically hunt down anyone they can find.

The two most prominent in the staff are a Sikh waiter (Dev Patel, of Lion and Slumdog Millionaire) and his head chef boss (Anupam Kher, one of India’s best-known actors).

The main guests are an American (Amie Hammer, Call Me By Your Name), his Muslim wife (Nazanin Boniadi), their baby and a nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey).

A cynical Russian businessman (Jason Isaacs) is a less likeable character but his background as a special-forces soldier provides some hope of kickback.

Further detail is unnecessary, as this Australian production (directed and co-written by Anthony Maras with John Collee) closely follows the same narrative arc as the Kiwi-made Iranian Embassy hostage drama Six Days, based on events in London in 1980.

The Mumbai attacks lasted four days, ending only when armed troops are flown in from Delhi. The total Mumbai death toll was 174 with more than 300 wounded.

An epilogue reminds us that The Bull was never identified, and no one was arrested.

Rating: Restricted to audiences over 16. 123 minutes.

Nevil Gibson is Editor-at-Large at The National Business Review based in Auckland. ‘Hotel Mumbai’ is currently running at Event Cinemas. For show timings and bookings, please visit https://www.eventcinemas.co.nz/Movie/Hotel-Mumbai

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Photo Caption:

  1. Anupam Kher as Chef Hemant Oberoi
  2. Dev Patel as Arjun: Moments of terror
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