The film is a dramatization of all that horror (taking some definite cinematic liberties to recreate the events as they happened), but the film also wants to focus on the very courageous resilient fight back by the hotel staff, who lived the Taj mantra of Guest is God for the day and helped rescue many of the guests unharmed. The focus is primarily on two brave hearts – Arjun, one of the most low key waiters of the hotel (brilliantly portrayed by Dev Patel with restrained sensitivity and vulnerability) who is also constantly thinking about how he might never meet his loving family away; and Hemant Oberoi, the head chef of the property (a terrific Anupam Kher, who I thought deserved more screen time) who in a way drove this extremely difficult mission with a level headed precision and strong sense of duty. There are definitive story arcs around a few foreign guests and their varied reaction to the situation, and there is some screen time given to understand the brain washed motivation of the young terrorists amidst all the devastation they cause.
The recreation of the spine chilling terror works well in parts, especially the way the luxurious grandeur of the place and the people is well contrasted against the futility of materialistic opulence in the middle of a massacre. Some scenes work to create the impact especially because of the way they are composed and shot, or how cleverly the background music is used (or not). Some others work because of the heartfelt performances of Patel and Kher. Though a track with an infant baby in the chaos is somewhat manipulative to force drama, it works to evoke the intended emotions. The usage of real life footage to capture scenes on the street, some actual news reporting, and even a testimonial from Kasab is inserted well into the drama, to make it all feel lot more flesh and blood. The choice of the film’s end note of how the hotel bounced back to life with several guests attending its grand reopening event is predictable, but helps to leave behind the life affirming message of the indomitable spirit of Mumbai and its resilience.
But there are lot of aspects of the film that could have been so much better. Here’s where I thought the film fell into its own trap, and didn’t leave the haunting impact that its subject very much should have:
1. The mandatory slum sequence of the Mumbai movie, so typical of the white filmmaker, was a major put off. It was no way necessary to force it in the film, and Dev Patel’s family connect and backstory could have been shown in so many other ways.