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The Attacks of 26/11 review: Searing but incomplete!

Attacks of 26/11
Ram Gopal Varma
Nana Patekar, Sanjeev Jaiswal, Atul Kulkarni, Ganesh Yadav, Saad Orhan, Ravi Kale
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You have trepidation in your heart, as the film begins. How will it portray the ghastly terrorist attacks of 26/11? Will RGV mess it up? Will he incorporate crazy camera angles and other gimmicks in such a sensitive subject? Will the film turn out to be a crowd-pleaser or will it state facts in a no-holds-barred manner? Let’s just say the film is a bit of both.

The film starts with written words underlining basic facts about the attacks— that the Lakshar-E-Taiba was responsible, the places attacked etc. We then start the story with fishermen on the sea, and their encounter with a mysterious group that requests their help. This is the group of people including Ajmal Kasab that arrives in Mumbai through the sea-route.

The film then shows us one chilling account after another, as the terrorists coolly walk around shooting people with their AK-47s. The story is told as Joint Commissioner (Nana Patekar playing Rakesh Maria) recounts the incidents to a probe committee. One doesn’t know the exact role this person played on the ill-fated day, but in the film he towers above the others in an almost-glorified manner.

Ram Gopal Varma ignores and underplays the contributions of other officers who sacrificed their lives on that fateful day like Hemant Karkare, Vijay Salaskar and Ashok Kamte.

Also, attacks on the Trident and Nariman House are omitted. The role of the media, crucial in these attacks, is completely left out and reactions of politicians is also absent.

It’s like the terrorists and Patekar’s character exist in some kind of vacuum with no external elements. It is indeed disappointing that Varma doesn’t manage to portray facts accurately. The hostages trapped in the Taj Hotel finally rescued by commandos and firefighters hasn’t been shown at all!

RGV does not hold back on manipulative tactics to involve the viewer, often showing the terrorists hurting children to show their deranged level of cruelty. Even otherwise, the film is not big on subtlety. People’s throats are slit, bullets fired through their head, close-ups of dead bodies shown, with the killers going about their work in a machine-like cold precision.

There are other straight attempts to showcase that people of all religions are hurt in terrorist attacks like a cabbie cheerfully telling the terrorists his name is Mohammed. Without warning, Varma uses jarring and lingering shots of idols. The Taj massacre scene ends with an awkwardly elongated shot of a goddess’s idol, while the fisherman’s boat has a huge Ganapati. Believe it or not, the film actually ends with Raghupati Raghav… with a request for all to stand and honour the victims of 26/11.

But there are enough nail-biting moments to keep you hooked. Like the one where the Commissioner admits he was shocked to see that the terrorist committing such mayhem in the city was such a short and young boy, around his son’s age. The scene where Kasab talks devotionally about his master whose “face shines with charisma and whose talks have magic” and his joy at being selected for the ‘mission’ is enough to send a shiver down your spine.

When the Commissioner admits to being befuddled and not being able to understand this kind and level of hatred, you resonate with his bewilderment. When he talks to Kasab on the true meaning of Islam and that its foundation is based on love, you are in that moment. Because the film makes you believe that maybe, just maybe, a brainwashed and hardened terrorist like Kasab can be made to see the other side— the point of view that debunks the jihad theory, and denounces killing of innocent people. So when the Commissioner breaks Kasab down with his thundering monologue delivered in a morgue placing Kasab among his dead group members, the audience is living out a fantasy, born out of helplessness and anguish.

Nana Patekar’s performance is dependably good, but he is not his usual crackerjack self. His rendering is highly impactful at times, and threadbare in the others. Sanjeev Jaiswal as Kasab is superb.

Several colleagues who had covered the attacks live, were disappointed that the film was a poor representation of the actual events. That put aside, the film does manage to involve the viewer and their emotions with its raw portrayal of the attacks and powerful performances. If you can live with the refurbishing of facts, the film is an engaging watch!

Rating: Three stars


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