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Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

The Attacks of 26/11: Insensitive, manipulative and factually incorrect

The terrorist attacks on key Mumbai landmarks on 26 November 2008 which killed 166 people (that’s the official figure but my sources assure me that it may be much higher) and injured hundreds gets a Bollywood makeover in erratic director Ram Gopal Varma’s latest misfire.  

The opening credits tell us that the film is based on a true ‘incident in Mumbai’ which must surely be the understatement of the decade!

It then cuts to the subsequent inquiry in which the then Joint Commissioner of Police (Nana Patekar: taking underacting to a new lower level) recounts his role during that tragic night.

This is told in flashback and forms the bulk of the running time: the various attacks on the tourist trap Leopold Cafe, the CST ‘Victoria’ train station, the iconic Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Cama Hospital are all shown in graphic detail.

We also see the inept police response (‘I don’t know what to do!’) and the capture and interrogation of Kasab (Sanjeev Jaiswal: suitably mean n moody in his Versace T-shirt and backpack), the only survivor of the ten Pakistani gunmen and his eventual hanging on 21 November 2012.

It is clear that Varma is not really interested in addressing any of the issues raised in the aftermath of the ‘incident’.

The film is largely devoid of any criticism of possible police mismanagement in response to the tragedy especially in relation to the standoff at the key target, the Taj Mahal Hotel which lasted several days.

This prolonged siege is brushed off simply with one line of dialogue: ‘the NSG (commandos brought in from Delhi who stormed the Taj) operation ended successfully’.

It also ignores the role ‘live’ Indian television coverage of the event may have played in assisting the gunmen inside the iconic Taj who were therefore able to know exactly what was happening on the outside by looking at the ongoing drama on the hotel rooms telly.

Instead Varma attempts a so-so realistic ‘cops and robbers’ documentary-style recreation of the events.

This is frequently filmed in slow motion in wordless lengthy violent and bloody set pieces (the film is rated ‘18’ in the UK) accompanied by a pounding patriotic ‘Jaws’-inspired score.

Given that we have seen the horrific real picture images so many times, one questions the necessity of this especially as the re-created sequences have a very low-budget feel.

The Taj Hotel lobby sequence in particular does not resemble the real Taj in any 2008 way.

It’s also factually incorrect: most of the initial carnage was done in the hotel’s ‘Harbour Bar’ which was totally gutted.    

In case we missed the point the first time around, Varma stresses that the film is not meant to cast aspersions on any religious community and to rightfully praise the merits of Islam (‘It’s ignorants like you who have made holy war a joke’) whilst showing Hindu deities in full close-up with a famous ‘bhajan’ on the soundtrack.

The film ends with Varma asking the audience to stand up as ‘a humble respect for the victims of 26/11’.

Manipulated forced patriotism anyone? Well, no-one stood up at the London West-End screening when I saw this.      

The opening credits state that the Mumbai 26/11 attacks were ‘far more shocking than 9/11’ but the film never really gets to grip to explaining convincingly why it makes this assertion.

What’s really shocking is that a talented director like Varma has used a real life tragedy to produce bolly-gore porn whilst passing it off as serious cinema.

Well, what do you expect from a man who remade ‘Sholay’ as ‘Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag’?

- Anil Sinanan

Dr Anil Sinanan is a graduate of Oxford University and a specialist in European Law.  He is the Bollywood film critic for Time Out London and can be heard dissecting the latest Bollywood releases on the Nikki Bedi show on BBC London, every Friday at 10pm.     

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