Directed by Ram Gopal Varma
Produced by Parag Sanghvi
Written by Ram Gopal Varma
Starring Nana Patekar
Studio Alumbra Entertainment
Distributed by Eros International
Running time 116 minutes
Language Hindi & Telugu
Budget INR 30 crore (US$5.46 million)
A boatload of armed men splash up the Gateway of India shoreline, crowded with fisherfolk and shack-dwellers, and melt away to their assigned targets. The attacks that took place in Mumbai on November 26, 2008, showed us just how vulnerable our most glittering megapolis was to anyone with a machine gun, a batch of explosives, and a plan drawn up by a trained terrorist outfit. Ram Gopal Varma’s re-creation of that ghastly night of terror and bloodshed brings it all back, in conflicting ways.
The making of a feature film based on ‘real’ events is always fraught. How ‘real’ is the film? How close is it to the events that were recorded minute by minute in police files and by live television presence? Varma, who took a walk through the ravaged interiors of the Taj Hotel in the then chief minister’s entourage, was roundly castigated ( so was the CM). This was meant to be an official assessment of human collateral and physical damage, not a location recce by a filmmaker. It was a callous, shockingly insensitive thing, and it inevitably rises to the fore when you begin watching : how much of what Varma saw that day makes its way into his film? And what did he leave out?
‘The Attacks of 26/11’ take us to Leopold Café, the reception area of the Taj Hotel, the vast interiors of CST, and to the hospital, the main spots of the carnage. The film opens on a somber note, with Nana Patekar who plays the part of Joint Chief Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria recalling the events of that night in front of a committee, and the film unfolds in a series of flashbacks. It shows us a city under siege, a baffled administration, and a shell-shocked police force struggling to come to terms with the ferocity and the multi-pronged face of the attack, and the capture of the man who became the face of it, Ajmal Kasab ( Jaiswal).
The last few RGV films have been a non-stop assault on the senses, with cameras being positioned between body parts ( thighs, arm pits, nothing has been spared), and ear-splitting background music. ‘The Attacks of 26/11′ is comparatively quieter, if a film full of chattering machine guns and cries of the dead and dying can be called that. Its initial passages are promising, and in a few sequences, there is an effective build-up to the dread. Patekar pitches in a solid if stolid performance, and Jaiswal, who looks alarmingly like the pictures we’ve seen of Kasab, matches our picture of a remorseless killer, dogma-driven, high-on- substance-and-adrenalin, before turning into a twitching mess.
But Varma loses the advantage by slipping into familiar treads. People being killed, and limbs being turned into bloody colanders on screen need to be treated, in this kind of a film which demands respect because it claims veracity, with respect. Here the director sheds restraint, and becomes a voyeur, and turns us into voyeurs too. Adults being butchered are bad enough, but children, and babies? You do not show me multiple close-ups of tots about to be shot. No, no, no. And then we are treated to long treatises on religious edicts and what’s good and bad, which are just plain tedious.
It had the potential to be both smart procedural, and spiffy action, but ’26/11’ sinks somewhere in the middle.
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