The Attacks of 26/11: Revisiting the ghosts of Mumbai

March 1, 2013

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Reuters)

Just before the intermission in Ram Gopal Varma’s “The Attacks of 26/11“, a police constable stumbles around with a rifle, searching for the two gunmen who had just wreaked havoc at Mumbai’s busiest train station. He slumps to his feet on the blood-stained floor and lets out a cry of anguish.

There are prolonged shots of a dead dog, fake blood squirting out of people, and much gore on screen as Varma recreates the horrifying events of Nov. 26, 2008. If the aim of the film is to chronicle these for posterity, this is certainly not how the story should be told.

Varma’s re-telling of the 26/11 attacks is shown from the point of view of a senior city police officer giving a statement to a government committee set up to investigate the attacks.

His narrative is interspersed with the journey of the ten gunmen who made their way to iconic Mumbai landmarks such as the train station and the Taj Mahal Hotel, gunning down anyone in sight.

What jars with this narrative is the crude and insensitive way Varma chooses to show it. Granted, there will be gun fire and shooting but surely there is a better way to show it.

You almost get the feeling that these scenes were more crucial for the director than sketching the characters and explain their motivations.

Nana Patekar, who plays the police commissioner, tells his boss at one point, “I don’t know what to do”. But what brings on this helplessness is not shown. Varma could have given audiences a glimpse into what goes on in the mind of the man in charge but he skims over that part.

Instead, we have Patekar’s character delivering a sermon to Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving gunman, in a morgue while sipping a cup of tea. Varma doesn’t attempt to give an insight into Kasab’s mind either, resorting to the lazy device of a tedious monologue from him on jihad with no context whatsoever.

The events of 26/11 are something most of us, at least those living in Mumbai at that time, will never forget — those images are fixed in our minds.

Terror attacks, hatred and the state of Mumbai’s police are all tricky issues to deal with, but Varma doesn’t even pretend to take an in-depth look at these issues. He resorts to jingoistic and lazy film-making that is doing the victims of the Mumbai carnage a disservice.

Skip this film and if you really want to know what happened in Mumbai that night, look for the Channel 4 documentary “Terror in Mumbai“. Now that’s how you tell a story.

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