The Attacks of 26/11
Direction: Ram Gopal Varma
Actors: Nana Patekar, Sanjeev Jaiswal, Atul Kulkarni
The good news is that The Attacks of 26/11 is one of the better films Ram Gopal Varma has made in recent years. The bad news is that Varma's last few films were duds like Department and Bhoot Returns so the bar is set very low.
In The Attacks of 26/11, Varma recreates Mumbai's tryst with terror on November 26, 2008 when ten men came over in a boat and laid siege to the city. More than 160 people died and over 300 were injured. It was one of the worst terrorist attacks on Indian soil.
Nana Patekar playing joint commissioner of police Rakesh Maria, narrates the events to an inquiry commission. He recounts the 60 hours of horror as young, brain-washed men walked casually around South Mumbai indiscriminately pumping bullets in to men women and children in the Taj hotel lobby, the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, Leopold Café and other locations. The Mumbai police struggled valiantly. Eventually the NSG Commandos have to be called in.
This film tells us little that we don't already know. Like Kathryn Bigelow in Zero Dark Thirty, Varma is trying to give us boots-on-the-ground experience.
But unlike Bigelow, he is unable to create a visceral feel or provide new insights. The action is broken by the commissioner's deposition to the inquiry commission, where half a dozen men sit impassively. Varma relies too much on bullets in slow motion and gore so we see a man's neck being sliced, another's brain exploding with a bullet and blood spread so thickly that people slip in it.
All of which is based in truth but the fact is that most of us have already been through this harrowing experience via live television coverage and at some point, you have to ask; what do I get in return for putting myself through this again? And the answer is not much.
In a few places, The Attacks of 26/11 is startling. The tragic absurdity of constables fighting heavily armed terrorists with stones and lathis hits you.
Nana Patekar, speaking with unduly affected pauses, has a few moments of power and eloquence, especially toward the end when he explains the real meaning of Islam.
But mostly, the film is plodding. Varma insists on bludgeoning background music and the terrorists remain faceless caricatures.
Even Ajmal Kasab, who is the only one fleshed out to some extent, is sketchy and simplistic.
The Attacks of 26/11 is a powerful subject watered down by ineffective story-telling. This could have and should have been so much more.