Ram Gopal Varma, or RGV as he is known, is often associated with Mumbai noir films—a genre he is credited to have started. And his controversial plots are often based on real-life incidents. Remaining true to his storytelling ways, in The Attacks of 26/11, he narrates in chronological order the night of November 26th when Mumbai was paralysed with terror as armed gunmen launched a concerted attack on Shivaji Terminus, the Taj Palace hotel, and other busy venues in the city.
Some of the scenes in the movie were recreated from footage caught on CCTVs and from Varma’s recollection of his visit to the actual sites with then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Therefore it is safe to say that the facts were well-researched and the story written to narrate true-life accounts. The film opens with Indian trawler MV Kuber being hijacked in the open waters of the Arabian Sea by a Pakistani boat. Terrorists force captain Solanki to take them to Mumbai.
It is then we see twentysomething Ajmal Kasab, played by newcomer Sanjeev Jaiswal—cold and expressionless—with his nine companions. Before they can dock on the harbour, they kill the captain and continue ashore in an inflatable boat. Dressed casually with backpacks, they go undetected as locals. Once on land, they set off towards their targeted locations.
The first half of the movie recreates the gruesome violence that Kasab and his companions unleashed on innocent victims. The second half shows Nana Patekar—playing Joint Commissioner Rakesh Maria—sitting in front of a committee recalling the incidents. In his gentle shudh Hindi, he tells the tale of his encounter with the sole surviving terrorist Kasab. The night moves slowly as it details Patekar’s interrogation with the Jihad-crazed Kasab, who quickly reveals the group’s plans. Patekar’s portrayal of Maria shows a man who is caught between the panic of the moment and is struggling to cope with the gravity of the situation.
Once again, the exceptionally skilled Patekar gives a performance worthy of a standing ovation. As Kasab, Jaiswal delivers the powerful lines with intensity. The lack of remorse and blind conviction he channels will have you grinding your teeth in rage. It is not often that a debut actor is able to make a mark in his very first film, but Jaiswal’s outstanding dedication to his loathsome character lives up to the hype.
Many see the movie as a painful reminder of a healing wound, while others call it the exploitation of a tragic event. Regardless, The Attacks of 26/11 has had a huge impact on audiences. Here in the Bangkok cinemas, the audience was no different: an elderly woman was appalled at the gruesome details, and a young boy covered his face at the sight of slain bodies; I, too, was deeply affected by some of the scenes. While I absolutely enjoyed the movie, my only critique would be of the low-quality effects, particularly the bomb explosions in some scenes, which seemed unrealistic, with poor digital enhancement. —REENA KARIM