The Attacks of 26/11
Details: (MA15+), 120 mins, India,
Synopsis: A dramatic re-enactment of the tragic Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 by Pakistan-based militant group Lakshar-e-Taiba.
A gory account of grim events.
The first half of the film is wholesale slaughter.
Rom Gopal Varma’s The Attacks of 26/11 is a tacky slandering of the memories of those killed in Mumbai at the hands of the Lakshar-e-Taiba. James Cameron waited 85 years before exploiting the Titanic tragedy in the name of schlock-buster entertainment; RGV has given survivors, the families of those 164 that died and India’s scarred population just over four years to deal with the massacre before unleashing his crass spectacle.
As with all reviews, technical accomplishments are noted regardless of content. The Attacks of 26/11 is a proficient work, with dual DOPs Harshraj Shroff and M Ravichandra Thevar and editor Sunil Wadhwani servicing the vision of their director admirably. The fully recreated lobby of the Taj Hotel, where many of the worst atrocities took place, is testament to the skill of set designer Uday Singh and his production design units.
But it is here that all that is admirable about the project ends.
After a series of title cards recalling fatal statistics (and one which states the audacity of the Pakistani killers makes it a greater act of terrorism than 9/11, as if it was a contest), Varma frames his recreation of the slayings within the recollections of Rakesh Maria, Joint Police Commissioner and one of the key high-ranking officials who oversaw the local authorities' response to the attacks. The narrative cuts back and forth between his testimony before a passionless board of review and the events as they unfold. As Maria, veteran actor Nana Patekar is stoic, though aloof at times; his words convey the horrors he experienced and the impact upon him, but feel recited.
The first half of the film is wholesale slaughter, merely an over-stylised recounting of the key events of Wednesday, November 26, 2008. The highjacking of a fishing boat by the terrorists en route and the subsequent killing of all crew (indicative of the bloody mindset of the film, the captain’s throat cutting is shot in splattery close-up); the initial massacre at the Leopold Café (astonishingly, real-life owner Farzad Jehani, present during the attack, plays himself in the massacre scenes); the Taj Hotel lobby slayings (the film’s most gruelling scenes); and the butchering of dozens at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) train station.
These scenes are relentless, with men, women and children (and, on one entirely unnecessary occasion, a dog) wildly flailing their limbs in ultra slow-motion as overstuffed squib bags explode out of their clothing. It sounds horrible, and many scenes are, but they are played with such overstated grandeur in so purely cinematic terms, they begin to take on the sick thrill of a slasher film. Who’ll be next? Who’ll survive?
The intermission, positioned directly after the CST slayings, provides a much-needed break from the monotonous montage of murder. Post interval, the director tightens his focus on the two key terrorists who entered the Cama Hospital and on the police procedures that led to the death of one and the capture of the other. As the surviving killer Ajmal Kasab, Delhi-based actor Sanjeev Jaiswal has a number of the film's strongest scenes; first, opposite Patekar’s Police Commissioner in which he talks long and tough on the glories of his jihadist commitment, then as he breaks down in the morgue, faced with the bloody reality of his dead comrades.
But the tonal change is too little and it comes too late to save RGV’s soulless exercise. The Attacks of 26/11 lacks any connectedness to its victims; the audience sits passively, watching the blood spurt and the toll mount, like they might a B-grade action pic (which is all it ultimately amounts to, sadly). The director has relied upon the population’s grief-stricken recollections to give the film weight instead of investing it with his own analysis or intellectual perspective. A better film might have proved cathartic to a reeling nation; The Attacks of 26/11 just adds insult to the injury.
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