It surely isn’t easy retelling the most shocking terrorist attack in the history of modern India. The carnage of November 26-29, 2008, that saw terror being unleashed on the landmarks and in the lanes of Mumbai by 10 gunmen on foot is still vivid in the heart and mind of every citizen. The attack of 26/11 is that raw nerve that rankles even today, and not just the family and friends of the 164 innocents that were massacred in the bloodbath.
Even five winters later, a re-imagining of the attack, therefore, needed a sensitivity that would present the reality, though harsh and horrific, with compassion, soothing the wounds instead of opening them anew. But then, isn’t that too much to ask of Ramgopal Varma whose terror tourism tour of the Taj Mahal hotel the day after the attack caused widespread outrage and cost Vilasrao Deshmukh the chief minister’s chair?
So, what we have is 118 minutes of morbid mayhem — guns and grenades, endless pools of blood and never-ending scenes of bodies piling up. The filmmaker who gave us a compelling peek into the gore and grime of the underworld in Satya and Company goes all out to shock here with violence so brutal that you would do well to keep an anti-nausea pill handy.
Leopold Cafe to the Taj, Cama Hospital to Victoria Terminus, The Attacks of 26/11 replays one bloodbath after another — screaming men, women and children fleeing in slo-mo, hunted down mercilessly and almost always shot through the head or the heart. Even as deafening drumbeats and blood-curdling shrieks play off in the background.
Even if you can manage to get past the scenes of mindless slaughter, The Attacks of 26/11 has nothing that will stir your soul or bring a lump to your throat. Varma solely concentrates on showing the attack as it happened, without making the effort to emotionally dig deeper. In Half Two, he suddenly shifts focus to the capture of Ajmal Kasab, falling flat on his face even as he tries to trigger off a debate between religion and jihad, choosing to concentrate more on the psyche of the terrorist rather than tell the tale of the bravehearts who survived the mayhem.
It doesn’t help that Varma takes too many cinematic liberties, the research material that he claims to have painstakingly gathered through the years failing to show up in a single frame. The jerky camera angles are spondylitis-inducing and images of Taj and the Gateway of India point to a Photoshop trainee at work.
Nana Patekar, whose role is modelled on top cop Rakesh Maria, struggles to rise above the flimsy and exaggerated material... and fails. Sanjeev Jaiswal as Kasab tries menacing but comes off comic. And one wonders what Atul Kulkarni was doing in the role of the cop — no, he wasn’t Karkare, Salaskar or Kamte — who gets bumped off as soon as he gets his gun out of the holster.
The Attacks of 26/11 could have been a hard-hitting yet poignant drama, bringing alive the horror of that doomed November evening. Instead, it’s yet another RGV film that you stand the danger of giving up two hours of your life on.