BRAV­ERY UN­DER SIEGE

DI­REC­TOR IN­SPIRED BY TALES OF SUR­VIVAL IN TER­ROR AT­TACK

Life & Style Weekend - - SCREENLIFE - WORDS: SEANNA CRONIN Ho­tel Mum­bai opens in cine­mas on Thurs­day.

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 across the world.

“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 through cor­ri­dors, suites, ball­rooms, and restau­rants.

“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.”

Aussie ac­tor Tilda Cob­ham-her­vey (pic­tured above) stars along­side an in­ter­na­tional cast in­clud­ing Dev Pa­tel, Ar­mie Ham­mer and Ja­son Isaacs. They por­tray char­ac­ters based on com­pos­ites of sev­eral real-life peo­ple caught up in the at­tack.

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