Australian-born Anthony Maras is an award-winning film director, whose short film The Palace won numerous prizes. He now returns with his feature debut Hotel Mumbai, a pulsating recreation of the horrifying events of 2008 when an Islamic terrorist organization coordinated twelve attacks – most notably on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel – across the titular Indian city. Starring Dev Patel, Armie Hammer and Jason Isaacs, below Maras recounts the scrupulous research required, casting Dev Patel and meeting the real-life survivors.
ASFF: How did Hotel Mumbai come about?
AM: The project first came about as a result of a documentary that had been made by an Australian team called Surviving Mumbai. I had previously worked with John [Collee, co-writer] on another film that he was a producer on, that I was attached to direct – an Australian feature film. Also a war film, it turns out. And so even though that first film didn’t happen – or it happened in a different way – I had remained friends with John and when the idea came up to do this, he was one of the first people I called.
ASFF: How did you research it?
AM: We watched obviously the documentary but also many tens of hours of interview footage made by the Surviving Mumbai team – these were interviews with the survivors of the attacks, the unedited interviews. But after that we went to Mumbai together and we spent about a month in the Taj hotel where we broke out the story and simultaneously were interviewing many of the surviving staff members who still work there. So it began like that. We both worked on the script from day one really.
ASFF: What sort of emotions did re-living these experiences throw up for the staff?
AM: I think you had a varied set of responses. One thing that generally felt common among the surviving staff members was an immense sense of pride in the way that they came together, in the resilience that they showed in coming back into the hotel and rebuilding it. Chef Oberoi, he re-opened the first of the restaurants within three weeks, particularly as a show of defiance to those who would try to carry out the attacks.
ASFF: Were you amazed by the bravery of some of these people?
AM: I was. It’s contrary to what we think we would do under these circumstances. Easily the most common thing I hear about the film, people’s responses to it, or even the script before we’d made the film is ‘What would I do? What would I do if I were in that situation?’ I think that runs through a lot of people’s heads.
ASFF: What about casting Dev Patel?
AM: To be honest, I always had Dev in mind for that role. I’ve always loved him since Skins, and sometimes you just have someone in mind when you do something and I was so glad that Dev wanted to do it. He has his own connection to the story; the last scene in Slumdog Millionaire was set in the VT Train Station, which was the first attack site. He came back to England and he saw his mother crying at the TV one day. She was just pointing at the TV and he saw the attacks going on, and I think that left a really big impression on him.
Hotel Mumbai is released in cinemas on 27 September. For more details, click here.
1. Stills from Hotel Mumbai.