The Big Issue : Edition 582
THEBIGISSUE.ORG.AU 8–21 MAR 2019 35 and ethnicities were all put in this awful situation together.” In The Palace (2011), his award- winning short about the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, Maras tackled similar themes of violence and the people caught up by it. Together with co-writer John Collee (the pen behind Master and Commander and Happy Feet), Maras began his research by watching interview footage with survivors and witnesses. He soon realised he needed to speak with survivors. “It was all about hitting the pavement,” he says, “getting in front of people, asking them about their stories and getting them to tell their stories.” That process included staying at the Taj hotel for more than a month, talking to staff and visiting the key locations. “Just being present in the hotel, that really helped bring what they were going through to life – we were walking the same corridors that the guests had run down in terror; we were sitting in the same ballrooms where [Taj hotel head chef] Hemant Oberoi had huddled his guests together trying to keep them quiet as the attacks were taking place.” Filmed both on location in India and in Maras’ hometown, Adelaide, Hotel Mumbai features an all-star cast, including Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) and Nazanin Boniadi (Homeland) as a married couple staying at the hotel, Jason Isaacs as a shady Russian businessman, and Dev Patel (Lion; Slumdog Millionaire) as a Sikh staff member who elects to stay and help when the fighting starts. The film takes an ensemble approach to the story – it’s no spoiler to say not everyone makes it to the end – but that wasn’t the initial idea. “The story came together out of the interviews,” says Maras. “At first there was discussion about whether we were going to focus more singularly on one character or another, but we ended up interviewing a lot of people and got a lot of different perspectives on the attack, and we wanted to incorporate as many of those as we could.” What really stands out in Hotel Mumbai is the quiet heroism and self- sacrifice of the hotel staff. It’s clear many of them could have easily escaped – they knew the ways out of the hotel better than the gunmen or the guests. Instead, they stayed behind and risked their lives to keep the guests alive and safe. “When the attacks happened and you literally had gunmen banging on the doors to get into the chambers, you would imagine it’d become every person for themselves. That doesn’t happen in the film because it’s not what happened in reality,” explains Maras. “The Taj staff went and did actions which kind of boggle the mind – these were people with lives of their own, families of their own. They had already ferried guests out of the hotel, yet they chose to go back in out of a sense of obligation and love for their guests.” by Anthony Morris (@morrbeat) » Hotel Mumbai is in cinemas 14 March. “The Taj staff went and did actions which kind of boggle the mind... They chose to go back in.” — ARMIE HAMMER AND ANUPAM KHER (ABOVE) ROUND OUT THE ALL-STAR CAST.