From the very first scene that the young terrorists show up in Hotel Mumbai, it’s clear that the entire movie based on the real 2008 Mumbai terror attacks is going to be an uncomfortable watch. And that feeling is only intensified the moment that the terror attacks begin on screen. Hotel Mumbai, which is currently in theaters, is one of the most visceral and violent movies you’ll ever see, which some may think might be a step too far for a film depicting real events and real people’s experiences. But director Anthony Maras didn’t want Hotel Mumbai to shy away from showing the accurate, graphic violence of the Mumbai attacks. In fact, he made the decision to make the action as real as possible.
“We didn't want to sanitize it,” Maras tells Refinery29. “We didn't want to make it feel like a Hollywood action film. If anything it's kind of the antithesis of that. The interviews [I conducted with survivors] were our guiding light for the movie and we tried to put people in the shoes of those who had lived through this experience.”
Maras wanted to bring a real first-person perspective to what a terror attacks actually feels like. “A lot of times on television you hear a lot about terror attacks and you see facts and figures and burning buildings and statistics but I think there's another side to it which is what it really means to live through something like this,” he says. “It was an honest attempt and it is an honest attempt to do justice to what these extraordinary people had to endure and in many cases came out stronger. We didn't want to sugarcoat what had happened.”
But Maras also didn’t want to exploit anyone’s story or experience who actually lived through the Mumbai attacks just for popcorn appeal.
“At the same time we didn't want to make it feel like a Hollywood action film where a hero comes in and saves the day,” Maras says. “Our heroes never throw a punch, they never fire a gun. They're heroic in their restraint and their ability to remain calm and their ability to help one another through these situations. So that's what we tried to make the focus of in this film. And in order to do that you have to sort of understand the threat that they're up against.”
One way that Maras made sure that he remained sensitive to the real-life people who suffered through the Mumbai attacks was to screen the film for survivors before releasing it to the public.
“We had pre-screened it before the Toronto premiere to see that psychologically they were ready for it,” Maras says. “Just as he is in the film, [real-life survivor] Hemant Oberoi is a man of immense strength and humility in real life. I was on eggshells to find out his response. He was watching it in Mumbai and I was not in Mumbai at the time, and I rang him nervous as hell seeing how he responded to it.”
According to Maras, Oberoi told him, “This film is what it felt like to live through this experience,” which is exactly what the filmmaker had hoped.
“Even though [Oberoi] had discussed with his wife many times what he'd gone through, she wasn't in the hotel at the time, she was in tears [while watching the movie],” Maras adds. “And she was beside herself and Hemant said, 'I had to put my arm around her and say, there there, love, it's only a movie.'"
And it would seem that other survivors have put their stamp of approval on the film as well, per Maras. "We went back also in December to screen it again for other survivors of the attacks as well as Taj staff and management and it was a profoundly moving experience.”