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Hotel Mumbai – Behind the Scenes

We’re often bombarded in the news with a
lot of stories about terror attacks and to an extent people can get desensitised
by what goes on. Things are reduced to a statistic, an image of a burning building, you see some distraught faces but the power of cinema
is such that you can actually put people in the shoes of others. That you can see
these sort of events from a very different perspective. My name is Anthony Maras and
I’m the director of Hotel Mumbai. I was also a writer and editor on the
project and Hotel Mumbai is a film about the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks where a
group of jihadists came from Pakistan and hit 12 different places across Mumbai, India. The narrative focuses on what went down at the Taj Hotel where guests and staff were in this epic three-day battle for survival and the film sort of follows a number of these different characters trying to
survive and help one another through a really nightmarish ordeal. It also focuses on the resilience of the human spirit in that you see a number of
people from many different walks of life from different racial, ethnic, religious,
socio-economic groups who when the attacks started all those barriers kind of evaporated and you just had a bunch of people who were all there in it
together and the film’s trying to do justice to their story. I was approached with the idea to do this film based on a documentary called Surviving Mumbai that
was made by an Australian production company and they were some of the first
on the ground in Mumbai after the attacks and I was just totally hooked and captivated. I knew it was something that I wanted to learn more about and
from there it was just a lot of research getting into what the story could be and
it kind of evolved pretty organically from there. So shooting in Australia
happened because a lot of our finance came through Australian means so it was
a genuine Indian, Australian, American co-production. Another massive added
benefit of doing that meant that for the first month of the production
we were able to film in a very you know controlled environment being in the
South Australian Film Corporation and you know it was really a chance for all
these people who’d come from all different parts of the world to kind of
bond in a controlled sort of pretty easy environment. Mumbai is the exact opposite
of that. It’s a city of over 20 million people, it’s just frantic every second of
every day and I think having shot in Australia for a month meant that sort of
we were match ready for when we had got to Mumbai. We collated a lot of video
material, interview material, transcripts and all the sort of stuff and a lot of
that was supplied in these packages to the actors so they could always have a sort of
grounding in terms of what the real experience was. Camera work and all of
that does play a big part but really it’s the actors faces and what they’re
doing that is ultimately going to sell it or not. So before the cameras ever
rolled rehearsals played a huge part in that in terms of getting people in the
right state of mind where they could sustain this sort of sense of dread and stress and terror. Beyond that there were little tricks that we used all the way through the filming to try and sort of amp that up so for instance I had a
little iPhone hooked up to sort of these loud speakers all throughout the set and
the sound department had put like a little touch pad where if you press this
button there’d be gunfire, this button there’d be screaming, this button and
there’d be you know bomb sounds and those sound effects were you know just a
very obvious way, A) to get people in the right frame of mind but also you know to
be flinching and reacting in unison. There’s really sort of no other way you know to do that. And then beyond that there were other tactics like the four young men
playing the key gunman in the film, we introduced them on the first day of
rehearsals to the rest of the cast and then after that we said ‘right, you’re not
speaking to one another again until after the filming ends.’ I didn’t want to build a sense of familiarity between who would be playing the terrorists and
those people being terrorised by them. There were a lot of other exercises with
the actors in terms of you know different improvisational things that we
did to help build their bonds and their trust between them as actors. All those elements together I think come in and help create that sense of tension for sure. Dev Patel was one of the first actors that we cast. He was really
critical obviously to the film actually getting up but more than just sort of
coming on as an actor he was on as an Executive Producer helping sort of the
development process from very early on. Dev has spent a lot of time in Mumbai and
he’s shot a number of films there and he had some really great ideas as to the
development of his character and so it was a really sort of positive and
fruitful collaboration working with Dev to just you know sharpen who his character
Arjun was and it’s funny we actually met at the Sunset Tower Hotel with Dev and
Jo Thomas one of the producers and it was meant to just be a sort of lunch
meeting just to talk about the role a bit and in the end 15 coffees later and
a lot of enthusiasm we almost had a new draft of the script. We shot not too long after that. We didn’t storyboard the film in any particular way because I
felt that we wanted the film to feel more sort of organic and kind of in the
moment so we made the decision quite early on, rather than trying to construct
the scene for the camera in the rehearsal process you know brought Nick
in, my cinematographer, and just kind of let the actors do their thing and let
them find the space. We went to a lot of the real-life locations that were
shooting in and sort of watched it play out and then sort of reverse engineered
it almost where the scene would play out, the actors would do their things and then
we’d sort of look through the rehearsal period (for) where can we bury the cameras,
what angles can we do what and even though it was primarily a main camera
setup like we had our A camera that we were framing for, often we had a second
camera sometimes a third and a fourth to capture all the different spontaneous
reactions and moments which you know you’re not going to get if you
stage something just for A camera. Hotel Mumbai I think is a story made for
the big screen. It’s a very experiential film in that one of the main goals was
to try and put people in the place of the guests and staff of this hotel that
was under siege. We premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year in a
cinema about 2,000 people and you know you could literally hear a pin drop
in the silent moments, you could hear everyone gasp at the same time and I
think obviously every filmmaker will say it but there’s an
energy to people sitting in a dark room and communally experiencing something
and on the big screen and with the proper sound I think you get that
experience in a very different way to how you would on a television set. Hotel Mumbai is coming out 14th of March it’s a national release across Australia
and I’m really keen to see how it goes and hopefully it’s resonates with the
Australian audiences

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