It couldn’t be easy for a filmmaker to re-imagine the horror of that terrifying night that scarred Mumbai forever. Gangsters and other violent deviants are usually fiction. What Ram Gopal Varma is dealing with here is raw reality.
The gash that was inflicted on the nation’s psyche by the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008 is still very deep. Any attempt to reopen it through a big-screen reenactment of the incident is bound to be viewed with both trepidation and scepticism.
Ram Gopal Varma, who has been trying to live down a string of recent misfires, manages to dispel much of the doubt in the minds of the naysayers.
He comes impressively close to capturing the agony of the last few seconds of the lives of the victims and the heroism of the uniformed martyrs who laid down their lives to contain the rampage unleashed by ten misguided young men from across the border.
This film is an act of obvious courage and, in following through with it at the risk of treading on raw wounds, Ram Gopal Varma presents a precise account of what happened on the night India’s financial capital froze amid an unprecedented carnage.
So, is The Attacks of 26/11 recompense enough for the unpleasant shocks that Ram Gopal Varma has subjected moviegoers to of late? Flashes of the old are indeed visible in parts of the film. And that is evidence that all isn’t lost.
The Attacks of 26/11 has two distinct halves. The first is presented docu-drama style and is shorn of frills.
It is devoted to just a few hours of the mayhem. It spans from the time the terrorists sneak into Mumbai via the sea to the point when the sole surviving attacker, Ajmal Kasab, is captured.
The second half focusses on the aftermath of Kasab’s arrest and subsequent execution after a lengthy trial.
Ram Gopal Varma takes recourse to a degree of cinematic liberty in this segment in a bid to fathom the mind of the terrorist.
He sets up a protracted verbal encounter between Kasab (debutant Sanjeev Jaiswal) and police officer Rakesh Maria (Nana Patekar).
The conversation touches upon jihad, religion, and the meaning of being a true Muslim.
The scene does provide a glimpse of Kasab’s personal story, but in the end appears to be too much of an overstatement not to be at odds with the realism of the rest of the film.
Ram Gopal Varma adopts an otherwise largely matter-of-fact approach. It cuts both ways.
For one, it rules out the possibility of the emergence of anything new in terms of understanding the circumstances and mindsets that drove a bunch of young men to script what is by far one of the most shocking chapters in contemporary Indian history.
The details of the event have been extensively documented and reported in the media, so The Attacks of 26/11 spring no surprises by way of the plotting.
Yet Ram Gopal Varma manages to inject an element of drama and a sense of urgency into some of the pivotal sequences.
He steers clear of the sort of technical gimmickry and overdone background musical score that have tended to mar his recent work.
The Attacks of 26/11 does not get carried away by skewed and obtrusive camera angles – one of the biggest banes of Ram Gopal Varma’s recent offerings.
The scale of the mayhem unleashed at the Taj, Victoria Terminus, Leopold Cafe and Cama Hospital is conveyed through the means of the good old power of storytelling.
The blood and gore on the screen might put off the squeamish, but the often graphic depiction of the violence only serves to highlight the sheer brutality of the attack.
The attack is seen from the standpoint of the then Mumbai joint commissioner of police (crime) Rakesh Maria.
It is Maria’s deposition before the probe commission that serves as the backbone of the narrative.
The device does not, however, always yield felicitous results – it makes the film unnecessarily verbose at times in the second half.
The truly distressing moments – the actual attacks on innocents and the counter-action by the police – are gripping enough to touch some raw nerves. But the film seems somewhat awkward when it tries to step up the emotional quotient.
Packing in an overload of detail into the film’s two hours leaves the director with little scope for coming up with the complete picture.
Nana Patekar puts his best foot forward with a measured performance: the known mannerisms are kept on a tight leash.
Debutant Sanjeev Jaiswal in the garb of Ajmal Kasab also makes an impression. He evokes repulsion and that is proof of his success.
Ram Gopal Varma is still not back to his best and The Attacks of 26/11 isn’t an unqualified triumph. But it is certainly watchable.