Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Attacks of 26/11  

Black November
In real life, Ram Gopal Varma caused a scandal and led to the unseating of a chief minister, as he went on a terror tour of the Taj Mahal after the horrific attacks.

His film The Attacks of 26/11 has that same ghoulish feel—cheap sensationalism combined with a veneer of realism. Because he hasn’t even got all the facts right. The entire heart-rending event was played out live on TV, and viewers watched with shock and grief; several articles and books have been published on 26/11. There is no evidence of the research Varma claims to have undertaken.

Even if one accepts that a filmmaker has cinematic license—some of the scenes and dialogue between dead people has to be imagined—did Varma think it was all just about two terrorists killing people?  There are endless shots of Kasab and his mate killing people at Leopold, CST Station, Taj Hotel and Cama Hospital. (Perhaps the budget did not allow even passing shots of the other venues.) Repeated shots of people being shot and dying with spurts of blood. Then a wide shot of all the dead and the blood splattered space. It feels like the dignity of those people who lost their lives is being violated. How disgusting is a shot of the terrorist spitting at the body of a Taj employee who died while trying to save a child. Mercifully (did the Censors intervene), the killing of the child is off camera.

 What about the cops? The Joint Commissioner (played by Nana Patekar), who is also the narrator of the film, shouts to the Home Secretary, “I don’t know what to do.” Another cop at CST station sits next to a wounded child and howls.  In spite of the deaths of brave policemen, and the heroism of Tukaram Ombale, Mumbai Police comes across as a bunch of bunglers.

The people of Mumbai remember, but Varma is not interested in stories of extraordinary heroism, of the famed spirit of the battered city that never bows down. So heroes like the railway announcer Vishnu  Zende, photographer Sebastian, Hemant Oberoi, Karambir Kang and so many others are not even mentioned.

But Varma prefers to have a long sequence with the captured Ajmal Kasab (Sanjeev Jaiswal) talking of martyrdom and the pleasures of promised heaven. And then shockingly, a crude and horrible scene of Kasab being taken to the morgue, thrown among the corpses of his accomplices and lectured by the commissioner on the true meaning of Islam. 

 A film that should have been a tribute to the people of Mumbai-- those who fought the terrorists, those hard-working men and women who made sacrifices for their fellow humans-- turns out to be a crude, exploitative blood fest.  And that won’t change, no matter what its fate at the box-office.


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