Anthony Maras on 'Hotel Mumbai', his upcoming film on the 26/11 attacks

A still from Hotel Mumbai   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On the evening of November 26, 2008, an Australian woman and her Indian fiancé sat at the calm Sea Lounge at Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. They were due to get married in two days. Looking for a different ambiance, the couple got up and decided to head to Leopold Café. They had barely made it when gunshots and screams tore up the night air. Somehow they rushed to safety.

Anthony Maras recalls this incident as the closest personal brush he had with the 26/11 attacks. The woman was a family friend; her experience left him horror-struck. A couple of years later, he saw the documentary Surviving Mumbai and was immeasurably moved by the personal tales within. “The nature of the tragedy was unique and horrific. Because the security forces couldn’t immediately tackle the situation, it was left to ordinary people to help each other out at great risk to themselves,” says Maras, whose feature film on the attacks, Hotel Mumbai, releases on November 29.

Anthony Maras

Anthony Maras   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Keeping it real

On watching the documentary, he knew that he wanted to bring this story to life as a film. He began researching extensively, going through copious materials and meeting survivors personally. “After hearing countless stories, of chefs, waiters, and regular tourists, I was struck by something absolutely unique. The ordinary human impulse is to run in the face of grave danger; here, that was inverted. Perfect strangers risked their lives to help other strangers. I was astounded by the capacity of human nature to be so altruistic in such times,” says Maras, whose film stars Dev Patel, Armie Hammer, and Anupam Kher, among others.

The director recognised an immense responsibility to the people whose stories he was telling. “There’s a tightrope I needed to walk in order to stay true to the story, without sugar-coating it or sensationalising it by making it a Die Hard,” he says.

Of course, while the personal tales of valour and tragedy were deeply moving, Maras knew he had to look at the story from a different, more complex perspective as well. In order to paint a complete picture, the team researched the attackers, their back stories, and how they were radicalised. They read thousands of pages of transcripts to understand the plans, the movements, and especially how the gunmen communicated with their handlers.

A still from Hotel Mumbai

A still from Hotel Mumbai   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

People in focus

What new perspective does he hope to bring to a tragedy that has been so widely discussed and written about? Maras contends that the narrative power of a feature film is unique as it allows audiences to intimately experience what it would feel like to be placed in a specific situation. “Unlike a book which can explore people’s thoughts or a documentary that might address wider issues such as geopolitics and history, a film’s strength lies in its ability to focus on the people. In a sense it is the opposite of a book — people’s motives and thoughts are judged by their actions and reactions,” he says.

Maras closes with the most emphatic credo for the film. “We have screened it extensively in the US, Canada and Australia. What I did realise was that many outside India have either not heard of these attacks or that it has probably faded from public memory,” he says. “People were deeply moved by our film. The story of these people deserves to be remembered.”

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 12:59:49 AM |

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