Filmmaker Anthony Maras made Hotel Mumbai as an ode to the survivors of 26/11 Mumbai Attacks
We speak to the director about what prompted him to take it up
It's been eleven years since the 26/11 Mumbai Terror attack. Over the past decade, many filmmakers have attempted to make documentaries and feature films about the tragic event. Among these is Hotel Mumbai by Australian filmmaker Anthony Maras that was released in Australia and the United States earlier this year. The film starring Dev Patel, Anupam Kher and others is set to release in India on November 29 in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.
Describing it as a narrative that shows the emotional side of the attack, the makers have attempted to showcase the stories of the members of staff who took control of the situation within The Taj Mahal Palace. Anthony, who has earlier made award-winning short films such as Azadi, Spike Up and The Palace, debuts as a feature film director with Hotel Mumbai.
Anthony says he was inspired to make a film on the attack after he watched Victoria Midwinter Pitt’s 2009 documentary Surviving Mumbai. “The documentary opened my eyes to these human stories of courage and sacrifice and I was incredibly moved by that,” he says.
The filmmaker also had a very close personal memory of the attack that further prompted him to work on this project. He recollects, “I have a friend from Australia who was getting married to an Indian man on the 27th of November that year. She was in India and was actually at the Sea Lounge of the hotel just 20 minutes before the attack took place. They had decided at the last minute to leave and have coffee at Cafe Leopold. And on the way, they heard gunshots and saw people running in all directions. This is someone from my hometown Adelaide; someone I grew up with. She had just managed to escape. That’s when I really began to understand that everyday people like us faced these hellish conditions. I was completely overwhelmed. These stories of courage of chefs, cooks, writers and tourists, of regular people surviving the attack piqued my interest.”
Change of heart
Even after deciding to make the film, Anthony had to research the subject for nearly a year. He spent a lot of time interviewing survivors, visiting the hotel and also talking to
the security personnel who were there at the site. The filmmaker says what was really interesting about the research were the accounts of people who had come out of the shock and fear with a positive outlook.
“The one thing that I was surprised by was the newfound perspective a lot of the survivors had. We interviewed a prominent Indian banker, he was a CEO. And he said, ‘you know, obviously, it was not my choice to live through these attacks. I’d rather not have done that but now I look at life and my family differently today. I cherish them.’ There was another financier from America. After the attacks he had a complete change of heart. He started NGOs and charities. It was challenging and difficult in some ways to research a project like this, that gives you a lot of perspectives that you can learn from along the way,” says Anthony candidly.
Once the research was done, preproduction began. It included a month of rehearsals with the cast. Every actor was given extensive booklets with all the interview transcripts of the people their characters were based on, and they were made to watch documentaries as well. “Dev in particular spent over a month in Mumbai, visiting the Taj and working with a dialect coach to get his pronunciation right. We also listened to many of the recordings between the gunmen and the handlers. We had access to CCTV footage of the attacks. We tried to get it to be as authentic as possible in this regard,” explains Anthony who hopes the film resonates with young people
The film releases on November 29