‘Hotel Mumbai’: Real-Life Terrorist Attack Becomes a Fictionalized, Bloody Thriller

Dev Patel, who recently displayed a different side of himself as a gun-welding mystery man in “The Wedding Guest,” is back to being unequivocally good in “Hotel Mumbai,” a fictionilized drama based on the 2009 documentary, “Surviving Mumbai.” Patel, who was born in London to Indian parents, plays Arjun, a kind and mild-mannered Mumbai man from humble origins who supports his family with his job as a server at a five-star establishment, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. However, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” this is not, as “Hotel Mumbai” is the extremely violent dramatization of the shocking acts of terrorism that took place over a three-day period in 2008 in India’s most populous city. This harrowing thriller focuses on the siege of the hotel and the brave, most likely underpaid, hotel employees who risked their own lives to do what they could to protect their guests after a group of terrorists descended upon their haven.

“Hotel Mumbai” begins like most other action films, with the calm before the storm and the introduction of the key players, including the ten terrorists who arrive unnoticed, blending into the crowds. We get a glimpse of a shirtless Patel as he dresses for his shift at the Taj. A religious Sikh, Arjun never goes outside without his turban, an important detail. Meanwhile, detailed preparations are underway at the hotel for the arrival of some VIP guests. Nazanin Boniadi plays Zahra, a member of a wealthy family who has come to Mumbai with her American husband, David (Armie Hammer), their newborn son, and their nanny, Sally (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). While these characters are all composites of multiple individuals, veteran Indian actor Anupam Kher portrays a real person, chef Hemant Oberoi. A perfectionist, Hemant almost sends Arjun home after he fails to show up in the proper footwear, but shows compassion after he explains how much he needs the money. However, he still won’t let Arjun serve in a suite containing associates of wealthy Russian oligarch Vasili (Jason Isaacs), a decision that ends up saving his life.

While Patel and Hammer aren’t exactly revolutionizing their careers with their respective roles here, “Hotel Mumbai” isn’t entirely a forgettable film. The gun violence depicted here, which is carried out by Pakistani extremists, is terrifying, even more so when one remembers that this is all based on real events. 167 people in total were killed during the attacks, 31 of them inside of the Taj, although the film makes it seem like so many more. The Taj itself is as luxurious as it gets — even the terrorists comment on how it looks like a paradise. Although the hotel offers every first-world comfort, the situation beyond its walls is something else. The closest military special forces unit is all the way in Delhi, meaning the guests and staff have to band together for eight tension-fueled hours in order to outmaneuver the killers and their AK-47s.

As horrible as all this was, the story that is depicted does manage to restore some faith in humanity. Many of the staff members had the option of quietly slipping out the back, but chose to stay and protect their guests. Of course, there’s a privileged upper crust white lady (Carmen Duncan) who causes some problems, but other than that, the class barriers come down.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of “Hotel Mumbai” is its depiction of religion, especially when it comes to the Jihadist terrorists, who are, of course, full of contradictions. At least one of them, Imran (Amandeep Singh), seems to have second thoughts as he takes orders over the phone from an unseen boss, a man who is presumably tucked away in a safe area. At one point, he kills a woman, but hesitates when he is ordered to search her bra for a passport. By the end, director and co-writer Anthony Maras does a commendable job of illustrating the difference between the truly pious and those who subvert religion for their own evil purposes.

Hotel Mumbai” opens in select theaters March 22, nationwide March 29.