Films about atrocities have to follow certain formulas and tick various boxes, while hopefully delivering entertainment in what amounts to a kind of societal scab-picking. The victims must be humanised, while being represented as innocent as possible. At the same time the perpetrators must have their motivations made as clear as possible – though understanding should not eclipse the evil of their actions. There should be heroism on the side of the underdog victims, balancing the perception of power between “good” and ”evil”. This, it is commonly thought, will generate suspense. It does.
Such films must stay slavishly close to the facts, since any potential audience will have been bombarded repetitively with the true story, as it happened and will be primed to a high level of ‘nit-pickerdom’ before the film version has even started. It was certainly that way with me. And the Taj Hotel in Mumbai – a week of almost 24 hour coverage at the time it happened – gave the whole film a strange sense of resonant deja vu.
“Hotel Mumbai” takes all these “rules” of atrocity films and sticks to them so assiduously that I felt that the film was ticking check boxes as it went along. This is no criticism, after all anyone seeing a film on this subject must already be something of a cynic and will (even if only subconsciously) expect it to follow the “rules” and appear unbiased (since the potential Muslim) viewing audience is vast and best not alienated, as events surrounding “Charli Hebdoe” show all too clearly.
Despite all the constraints loaded onto “HotelMumbai” before it even starts, it is a remarkably successful film. The whole audience does know the ending before the film starts; But still looks like its been hit by a bus as it exits the theatre. Throughout the last third of the film I could hear my companion grinding her teeth because it made her “so angry.” Make no mistake, “Hotel Mumbai” is a good film, if not a great one- just don’t expect it all to end with a big Indian wedding- or a “Dance off” with the Terrorists; But you already knew it wasn’t that kind of film, didn’t you?
Review (c) Alex Rieneck 2019 All Rights Reserved*