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HOTEL MUMBAI: 3 ½ STARS. “focusses on the resilience of the human spirit.”

Don’t let the word ‘hotel’ in the title of Dev Patel‘s new film trick you into thinking it’s another entry in his lighthearted “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” series. “Hotel Mumbai” is a harrowing retelling of the terrorist attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in November 2008.

The film begins with 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic terrorist organisation based in Pakistan arriving in Mumbai. They split into small groups and soon reports of armed gunman rampaging through the city hit the news. They shoot up Mumbai’s main rail terminal, a café and other hotspots, guided by an ideologue who has convinced these young jihadists that paradise awaits if they do the job by spreading terror.

Director Anthony Maras builds tension by cutting between the chaos in the streets and the measured, elegance, of Taj Mahal Palace Hotel where Arjun (Patel) and Chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) work among the 500 staffers who keep the place running like a fine tuned watch. It’s the kind of place where the bathwater is always exactly 48° and, as the staff says, “the Guest is God.”

Soon a small group of the terrorists invade the “otherworld luxury” of the Taj, indiscriminately slaughtering guests and staff alike. Inside the strong willed Chef and Arjun help the guests survive the siege, which lasted almost three days. With the closest Special Forces army 800 miles away in New Delhi the understaffed and unprepared local police must take action. “If we stay in here and wait,” says one cop (Nagesh Bhonsle) looking at the carnage from the street, “there will be no one left.“

There are many moving parts in “Hotel Mumbai.” We follow the sprawling cast—including Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi as an upscale couple staying at the hotel—in various parts of the hotel as they fight for their lives. Despite some boiler-plate flourishes—cell phones that run out of juice at the worst possible time etc— Maras crafts an edge-of-your-seat thriller that puts you in the middle of the action. With so many characters it can be hard to stay invested in them all but the horror of the situation becomes more visceral with every loud gunshot on the soundtrack.

“Hotel Mumbai” is a nicely executed thriller that looks beyond the terror to focus on the resilience of the human spirit in the face of surreal adversity.

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