Bollywood recreates Mumbai attacks

March 02, 2013 - 5:52:15 am

People walk under a promotional billboard for Ram Gopal Varma’s film The Attacks of 26/11 by a roadside in Mumbai, yesterday.

MUMBAI: A dramatised Bollywood account of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, when 166 people died in a three-day rampage, opened in Indian cinemas yesterday to present an unusually emotive tale told from the perspective of a police officer.

The Attacks of 26/11 chronicles the events that began on November 26 2008, when 10 gunmen went on a killing spree throughout the coastal city, attacking two luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre, among other places.

It is the latest in a recent spate of Bollywood movies taking inspiration from real-life incidents, a practice that used to be unusual. Just over the last few years, there have been films on the gruesome murder of a model and a daring bank heist.

The film’s director, Ram Gopal Varma, said he decided to make the film to try and answer questions about how a small handful of attackers was able to lay siege to a vast metropolis the size of Mumbai.  “How can 10 men hold a city of 15 million people to siege? That is something everyone should know,” Varma said.

The film focuses on the city police and their response to the attacks, for which India blames the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, with veteran actor Nana Patekar playing a high ranking Mumbai police officer referred to only as “joint police commissioner.”

Patekar’s character, based on a real policeman, narrates the film, which portrays in graphic detail how the hapless police force, caught completely unawares, struggles to cope with an attack of such enormity.

At one point he frantically tells a government official, “I don’t know what to do.”

“You need to understand that the police were confused and didn’t know what to do,” Varma said. “If you were in their shoes, you would react the same way to an incident of this magnitude. It is important to understand their point of view.”

Advertising posters show a group of 10 men, the attackers, in a dinghy heading towards the iconic sea-facing Taj Mahal hotel, one of the most recognised buildings in Mumbai — a nod to the powerful shock and emotions the attack still evokes, symbolised by the hotel.

Varma himself has fallen afoul of these still unhealed emotional scars, setting off controversy several times. 

The first came just days after the attack, when he was seen at the Taj Mahal hotel with a major politician and accused of insensitivity for visiting the site so soon after the disaster and of gathering material for a film, which he denied.

Last November, a political ally of the government said shooting at the actual locations of the attack “mocked” Mumbai residents. “Seeing broken glass or grenade dust isn’t going to help me make a film,” said Varma, who has directed around 40 movies in the past 25 years.