The multiple stories of 26/11 as seen from the lens of filmmakers
By Akshay Acharya
Mumbai, Nov 26 (IANS) As the nation remembers for the 13th time in as many years the unsuspecting civilians gunned down by Pakistani terrorists and the martyrs in uniform, here’s a summary of the films and web series that presented their sides of the story that shook India for three nightmarish days.
The Attacks of 26/11: This Ram Gopal Varma directorial sequentially presents a comprehensive account of what happened on the fateful night. It’s in fact the only piece of Indian mainstream cinema to chronicle the attacks. From the planning, transit and execution of the attacks to the terrorists being neutralised and Ajmal Kasab, the only perpetrator to be caught alive, the movie presents a disturbing account of what went down and show how the administration eventually got the situation under control.
The 2013 film has Nana Patekar playing the former Police Commissioner of Mumbai, Rakesh Maria, and follows a non-linear approach to storytelling as the officer recounts the events during an official inquiry.
Varma had earlier told IANS: “Never in the history of the world were there more terrifying attacks than those that happened on 9/11 in New York. But in the sheer audacity of their execution, I felt the attack on Mumbai was far more shocking.”
Taj Mahal: The French-Belgian thriller-drama, directed by Nicolas Saada and released in 2015, presents the story as it unfolds from the perspective of a victim — a young girl who comes with her parents to Mumbai after her father gets posted to Maximum City. The family chooses to stay in the Taj Mahal Palace until their accommodation is set up. As destiny takes an unexpected turn, the girl gets trapped inside the hotel while her parents are out for dinner. Owing to its storytelling and narrative, the film was also screened at the Venice Film Festival.
One Less God: Lliam Worthington’s 2017 movie recasts the horror of the attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel from the points of view of the perpetrators and the hotel guests who were held hostage at gunpoint. Based though the film is on true events, the two perspectives are fictionalised.
Hotel Mumbai: The 2018 action thriller directed by the Australian filmmaker Anthony Maras narrates the story of courage of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel’s staff who pushed their line of duty of serving guests by helping with the rescue operations and stood with them through thick and thin. The film, which stars Dev Patel, Anupam Kher, Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi and Jason Isaacs, is based on the documentary titled ‘Surviving Mumbai’.
Talking about the film, Maras told IANS: “It all started when I saw ‘Surviving Mumbai’. We got very easy access to the transcripts and access to the people who have lived through it. We spent a great deal of time just listening to them and focusing on their stories. We met them in person or via video calls just to know what it was to live through such an experience.”
Maras and his co-writer John Collee had rock-solid source material at their disposal in the form of interviews, documents from Kasab’s trial, victim statements, and transcripts of satellite communications between the terrorists and their handlers provided by the police and trhe local authorities.
State of Siege – 26/11: The Zee5 eight-episode series is based on the authoritative book ‘Black Tornado: The Three Sieges of Mumbai 26/11’ by journalist Sandeep Unnithan. Directed by Matthew Leutwyler and Prashant Singh, the series stars Arjan Bajwa, Arjun Bijlani, Jyoti Gauba, Vivek Dahiya, Tara Alisha Berry and Mukul Dev.
What separates ‘State of Siege – 26/11’ from its counterparts is that it tells the story through the lens of NSG commandos, who took over control of the situation from Mumbai Police on November 27 and neutralised the terrorists by November 29, thereby restoring free civilian movement and bailing out the city from the clutches of the gunmen.
Mumbai Diaries 26/11: More recently, we had the Prime Video series ‘Mumbai Diaries 26/11’ directed by Nikkhil Advani. The eight-episode series features an ensemble of Mohit Raina, Konkona Sen Sharma, Prakash Belawadi, Sonali Kulkarni, Shreya Dhanwanthary and Satyajeet Dubey, and follows the story of medical professionals as they managed the huge influx of victims during the attack and provided them with treatment despite the crumbling healthcare infrastructure.
Explaining what made him tell their story, Advani told IANS: “I have always been a huge fan of shows like ‘ER’, ‘Chicago Hope’ and ‘Code Black’. There’s inherent drama in the act of saving lives and then you get to explore the lives of the unsung heroes, namely, the doctors and nurses.”
Describing the strength and resilience of the medics, Advani said: “When I asked the doctors and nurses we interviewed during our research about what they did differently on those three days, they looked at me incredulously and said, ‘We turned up for work.’ It made me think that actually these medical professionals and first responders, who work under incredible pressure in government hospitals, really do the most courageous work almost every single day.”
Terror In Mumbai: This HBO documentary takes into account the multiple perspectives on the administrative shortcomings and security failures. Written by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, ‘Terror In Mumbai’ is one of the best documentaries to piece together the story with eyewitness interviews, surveillance videos and intercepted call exchanges between the ten terrorists and their controllers in Pakistan.
Mumbai Massacre: An episode of the widely acclaimed docu-series ‘Seconds From Disaster’, a US-UK co-production directed by Stan Griffin, it uncovers the security failures that allowed the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists to kill at will. The episode features accounts of the survivors who narrate their experiences and recount what unfolded on one of those long, dark and horrific nights of Mumbai.
Surviving Mumbai: A Victoria Midwinter Pitt directorial broadcast in 2009, ‘Surviving Mumbai’ is a television movie that follows the narrative style of documentary and tells the story from the perspective of the survivors, who recount how they battled the odds and controlled their nerves in a fiercely demanding situation just to be able to stay alive and make it to the other end of what seemed like an interminable rabbit hole.
Shahid: The 2012 biographical drama directed by Hansal Mehta is based on the life of lawyer and human rights activist Shahid Azmi. Starring Rajkummar Rao, the film takes into account the case of Faheem Ansari, who was accused for his involvement in the 26/11 attacks, but was later acquitted of all charges because of lack of evidence. Faheem was Azmi’s last case before he was gunned down by assailants.
Embrace: The 15-minute short film, made in 2014 by Los Angeles-based Ghalib Shiraz Dhalla, tells the story of an American couple who come to Mumbai for a vacation but are trapped in Taj Mahal Palace following the terrorist attacks. The couple holds the fort as they watch their friends being massacred. When all hope is lost and they realise that help won’t be coming their way, they make a life-altering decision in order to reunite with their son whom they left behind in their homeland.
Phantom: Kabir Khan 2015 movie follows the aftermath of the 26/11 attacks. It features Saif Ali Khan as an ex-serviceman, who is pressed into service by R&AW to seek vengeance on the men who planned, coordinated and executed the attacks.
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