Peril pulls all people together
Tale of survival at Taj hotel
In 2008, the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai was the centre of a three-day terrorist attack.
By the time the carnage ended, more than 170 people from more than a dozen countries had been killed.
More than a decade later, the stories of the victims and survivors come to the big screen in the dramatic thriller Hotel Mumbai.
Inspired by the courage and selflessness displayed amid such a tsunami of violence, director Anthony Maras was determined to tell their stories in his feature film debut.
The Greek-Australian filmmaker can still recall his initial reaction to the wave of horror as it was breaking on television.
“Obviously I was heartbroken over the violence and loss of life,” he
says. “But at first I only knew the Mumbai attacks as a series of burning buildings on a TV screen. Then as I watched interviews with survivors an entirely new dimension of these events opened up for me.”
Maras was particularly moved by the stories of the guests and staff of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.
Opened in 1903, the five-star hotel is famous for its architecture and luxury, and hosts countless politicians, business leaders, statesmen and celebrities.
Due to its prominence, the Taj was specifically chosen by the terrorists.
“Here was this historic, seven-storey monument to India’s progress and diversity and it became a war zone,” says Maras.
People instinctively flocked to the hotel for protection once the attacks began. During the gruelling, days-long fight for survival, hotel guests and staff were shot at, bombed and hunted.
“It’s easy to be be overwhelmed by the horror of what occurred at the Taj,” says Maras.
“But when you take a closer look, a different perspective emerges. There were over 500 people caught up in the Taj Hotel siege. That all but 32 survived is a near miracle. Of the fatalities, half were staff members who had remained to protect their guests. That’s a testament to the extraordinary heroism, ingenuity and self-sacrifice of both staff members and guests alike.”
Maras remains awestruck by the many examples of bravery to emerge from the attacks.
“Taj kitchen workers stuffed baking trays under their shirts, makeshift bulletproof vests, as they shielded patrons from machine-gun fire,” he says.
“Guests lowered fellow travellers out of windows using ropes made of knotted bed sheets.
“Some Taj staff members led others through hidden corridors to safety outside, only to re-enter the hotel and look for more people to save.”
The subject matter resonated with Maras because of his own family’s history as refugees from war-torn Greece.
“The Palace resonated with me as in many ways it mirrored the struggles my own family went through before fleeing for safety and a new life in Australia,” he says.
“I was deeply affected by these stories of people in abject peril pulling together to try and get through.”
FEAR: Tilda Cobham-Hervey in a scene from the movie Hotel Mumbai. Supplied by Icon Films.