It was on this day, 13 years ago, India was struck by one of the most devastating terror attacks since its inception in 1947. People all over the world witnessed the financial capital of the country, Mumbai, turning into a warzone as heavily armed militants targeted several prominent sites in the city.
A series of bombings and shooting incidents between the night of 26 November to morning of 29 November left 175 dead, including children and the elderly. With time, all the physical structures have been repaired, windows, roofs, and walls with bullet and shrapnel marks have been renewed. But the political blunders and the mental damage caused by those 3 distressing days are yet to be rectified.
Post-Mumbai attacks, several reforms were introduced which focused on strengthening the security of the state, against both international and domestic threats. The Coast Guard was strengthened in terms of manpower and support assets like ships and aircraft available for deployment. Specialised intelligence agencies like National Investigation Agency (NIA) were formed in the same year (2008) for counter-terrorism roles nationwide, without facing challenges from state governments. Additional effort was put into arming police and other security forces. National Security Guards (NSG) were prioritised in receiving new gear and facilities for training. A dedicated counter-terrorism task force “Force One” under Mumbai Police was also constituted as first responders.
Impact of recreations
While many may not notice it, but movies, series or any form of quality visual entertainment media carries the potential to cause a great impact in society, and depending on its reach, it does cause short term to long term effects at the personal and state level. The best example can be the 1986 American movie “TopGun”, an air combat film featuring US Navy fighter pilots taking on adversaries. The film’s extraordinary combat scenes, shot with real fighter aircraft involved, led to its brand success at the box office. What happened next in the real-world was an achievement for both Hollywood and the US military who were expecting the movie to play its role as a “recruitment” video for the Navy. Surprising figures appeared when it was revealed that the number of youth applying to join the service rose up to 500%.
While the content focusing on recreation of a real-life terrorist attack or conflict may not always focus on recruiting men into the military, these do offer a virtual view for the next generation to understand and realise the struggles and horrors associated with such upsetting periods. Similarly, what we have seen with documentaries, movies and series based on the 2008 Mumbai Attacks till now, more or less do the same job of introducing such emotions to people. Therefore, we are going to talk about some titles produced and what action they pack within themselves. Also, both pros and cons will be discussed for each franchise and what are the viewer discretions embedded so that you will be able to choose the correct environment to watch. Let’s begin:
Mumbai Diaries: 26/11
The latest entry in the category of stories based on 26/11. Released on Amazon Prime in September 2021, the 8-episode web series focuses on the work of medical staff who were one of the most, if not the most, vital support assets during the attacks. The story revolves around a senior doctor of a prominent hospital in the city, Bombay General Hospital and its staff including nurses as interns. It also features scenes of attacks in The Taj Mahal Palace hotel, renamed to Palace hotel. A lot of action scenes are included as well where gunmen are shown going head-to-head against civilians as well as security personnel. There was also a critical showcase on the role of media, where a media employee of a fictional outlet compromises the security of not just herself, but also the entire hospital for the sake of “hot” news. This show covers a lot of underrated elements which were in action during the events that took place during 26/11.
Nevertheless, the makers tried to offer a unique perspective of the role players during the 2008 attacks who were overshadowed in some way till now. This unique approach allowed their audience to keep hold of their positions while watching the series. However, it worked only during the first few episodes and the series turned over-dramatized as the makers added a lot of fictionalization in the name of “creative freedom”, something that is done even for movies, or series based on real life. In the actual 26/11 attacks, only one medical institution, Cama and Albless hospital was attacked by militants on the night of 26 November 2008. The series on the other hand, while already referencing the attacks on Cama hospital, shifted to place another huge round of shooting and bombings at the protagonist’s hospital. Many scenes were overstretched, aided by police officers always missing their shots even at close range. Militants were also able to survive bomb detonations while police were the only ones suffering causalities. This ‘too-much-fictionalization’ makes it not so precise a display of how the events unfolded themselves.
Graphic content and violence make it unsuitable for a family show, otherwise, it is good to watch as just another content that displays how people lose their hopes but still recover, manage to stay calm even in adverse situations and display utmost bravery in unavoidable circumstances.
Hotel Mumbai was an attempt by the makers from three nations, the United States, Australia and India, to provide their audience with a victim’s perspective of the 26/11 attacks. First released in Toronto International Film Festival in 2018, then theatrical releases in Australia in March 2019, followed by the United States in the same month and finally in November 2019 in India after certain additions like songs, considering how ‘odd‘ it would be for Indian audience to see any movie based on India without songs.
The film is filled with serious emotions and brilliant characters portrayed by renowned Hollywood as well as Bollywood actors like Jason Isaacs and Anupam Kher. As the name suggests, its entire showreel consists of action inside the Taj Palace hotel and how the civilians inside, along with the hotel’s staff, managed to save themselves from gunmen causing a massacre. It is unique in the sense that while many series released till then were about chaos in people and tracing every path of the militants, this movie has a lot of scenes where decisions were taken co-operatively and calmly. Though, chaos indeed happened by the end of the movie that we shall not discuss to avoid spoilers. A few things, still need to be addressed to describe the cons and inappropriate material in the content.
The first was stereotype of western thought that considers most of the Indians living in slums. The protagonist, Arjun (Dev Patel) was the one spending his life with the family while living in slums from one of the poorest sections of the society. This sounds absurd for a waiter working in a 5-star hotel and serving to some of the most-richest families from India and abroad. Then there is a lack of a clear representation of the final assault on the hotel. The scene was merely just 5 minutes but filled with chilling and satisfying scenes when NSG cooked the militants. Not many complaints as the concept of the movie was different, therefore, our assessment of looking at involvement of security personnel in neutralizing the threat from the hotel can be skipped.
A good take on the event with not much fictionalization and dramatization. A must watch content that keeps you engaged till the end.
Attacks Of 26/11
A 2013 movie directed by renowned Bollywood artist Ram Gopal Verma who effectively captured and displayed the sorrow of 26/11 attacks, covering various action zones during the attack and how security was trembled due to Mumbai Police’s lack of preparation to handle such high-level attacks. The movie runs under the narration of Nana Patekar, playing the role of Mumbai Police joint Commissioner Rakesh Maria who was on duty during the attacks; but months after the incident, summoned by an investigation committee which accused him of his irresponsibility that caused this ‘shooting incident’ to turn into large scale attack. The massacre at Leopold Café, followed by similar scenes in Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), bombings via detonation of explosive-laden taxi and several scenes Taj hotel took their respective camera time.
While this movie has a dark tone and covers most of the aspects of the 26/11 attacks, it still appears a bit incomplete in content. Scenes of assault by NSG were not displayed and it cuts directly to the end, before the execution of Ajmal Kasab. Furthermore, a large part of the movie has unnecessary slow-motion scenes to highlight the graphic content which may look inappropriate to some.
A movie that contains a lot of action happening within a dark and sorrowful environment, it is a must-watch, should not be left out by viewers. If you’re looking for wide-area coverage of the attacks in the form of visual entertainment, this is your pick.
Before we head to the best, here are some honourable mentions: Documentaries
Documentaries are undeniably the most trusted content when it comes to the depiction of a real-life event. It covers real footage instead of recreations using actors, interviews with actual victims and other elements who were closely associated with the incident. The same is for the productions based on 26/11, some highly recommended documentaries are mentioned below.
- Terror In Mumbai
Available On: HBO Max
- Battle Ops
Available on: Veer by Discovery/Youtube
State Of Siege: 26/11
Since it’s content for an OTT release, someone would have never imagined how excellent this adaption would be. To be frank, at least we didn’t. The film covers the contribution of NSG in a serious way till the end of the attacks. It also gives a detailed overview of the challenges faced by the force due to lack of some vital support elements like real-time intelligence, ammunition, media and their ‘live’ presentation, comprising the tactics employed by assault teams to neutralize threats as well as political challenges. Another great characteristic it carries is the accuracy in terms of gear, armament, tactics and events. The NSG in fact used the H&K Mp-5 Sub-Machine Guns (SMGs) during the operation, used breaching charges to destroy the floors and walls and Indian Navy Marine Commandoes (MARCOS) did arrive as first responders from Special Forces against this attack, something that was never shown before by any such content from Bollywood. The directors really gave the audience what they wanted and expected from a series based on Sandeep Unnithan’s bestseller “Black Tornado: the three sieges of Mumbai 26/11”.
To be honest, there are no complaints from the movie but there are still some minor disappointments. The CGI or VFX was too outdated and easy to catch as computer graphics instead of realistic action. Lack of recoil from AKs was another problem. Additionally, while it is appreciated that they added action moments involving MARCOS, they featured them with much newer camo, that is Universal Camouflage Pattern (UCP) instead of Indian Disruptive Pattern Material (DPM) with which MARCOS were deployed during the attacks. Also indicating a small budget destined for the production, locations of some prominent scenes were changed like the terrorists were captured in a different place instead of Marine Drive. Some close-range shooting actions were overstretched and dramatization was done as well.
Quality content with great visuals, (though appearing clearly as VFX) is something that every action lover enjoys. And if you aspire to be a part of the military someday, we believe it is something that you should never miss in your life.