TORONTO: Hotel Mumbai, the feature film by Australian director Anthony Maras about the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, premiered to a huge response at the Toronto International Film Festival here, with Taj Mahal Palace chef Hemant Oberoi joining the audience.
After introducing the cast, including Dev Patel and Anupam Kher (in the role Hemant Oberoi) before the premiere, when director Anthony Maras said chef Hemant Oberoi had just flown in from Mumbai to be in the audience, Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre echoed with rounds of applause and gave Oberoi a standing ovation for his heroism during the attack.
“We also have a someone special in the audience tonight…this film won’t have been possible without him. He is the reason I made this film… I don’t know exactly where he is (in the audience). We have chef Hemant Oberoi. Could you please stand up, sir? He is a hero…standing ovation, please.’’
In essence, Hotel Mumbai captures the four-day nightmare at the epicentre of the terror attack — the iconic Taj Palace Hotel — through the ordeal of foreign holiday vacationers and how all come together to pull through that hopeless situation.
As the terror drama unfolds from the CST railway station, the Pakistan handler makes use of live telecast of the attack to guide them for their next course of action.
With the Taj Palace becoming a death trap for the people, the film highlights the extraordinary courage and heroism of Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and his junior chef Arjun (Dev Patel) in bringing as many people as possible into the so-called chambers — considered the safest place in the hotel.
Dev Patel, in the role of turbaned Sikh Arjun, brings that rare intensity to his role as he risks bullets to guide the trapped people to safety.
This serious film is not without its moments of humour…like when the rustic terrorists use choices Punjabi expletives (khota, etc) with each other…or when their Pakistani handler says something in English and they can’t understand it.
As the director said, the 125-minute film is an ode to the resilience of the staff at the Taj Palace Hotel which bore the brunt of the terror attack that claimed 164 lives at multiple locations in the city.
“Opening within three weeks and restoring the hotel within 21 months was remarkable,’’ said Anthony Maras.
About the disarray in Mumbai police during the attack, Maras said, “Police response was so fragmented’’ because it had lost its head of anti-terror squad Hemant Karkare very early in the terror attack.
“The whole city was under siege and nobody knew anything…we focussed on Taj Palace because it was the major target…’’
Hotel Mumbai has been filmed in Adelaide — the home city of the director — and Mumbai.