Showbiz / Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film ‘Hotel Mumbai’

Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film ‘Hotel Mumbai’

Showbiz Mar 29, 2019

This Bollywood icon flew in from New York (where he also shoots his prime time hit show New Amsterdam) to promote his latest film Hotel Mumbai, which had a special screening co-hosted by noted actor Vinay Virmani and The Honourable High Commissioner of India to Canada Vikas Swarup in Toronto. Earlier that day, I had a chance to sit down with the noted actor who shared his emotional journey reliving 26/11, the power of being present and discovering one’s courage even in the most trying times. 

 

“I thought it was a shoot-out from a gang war” reflected Bollywood thespian Anupam Kher upon hearing the initial gunshots which were “8-9 kilometres” away from his film set in Mumbai. The last thing that he or anyone else would have surmised is that the gunfire — which managed to pierce the bustling city’s chaotic wall of sound — would be from a terrorist attack. An attack that would horrify the world as it engulfed a city for four days on the 26th of November in 2008, culminating at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel.

Kher’s shock ran deeper than just as a Mumbaiker. “We discovered that a friend of ours, their relatives were inside,” he recalled. “The general manager of the hotel [who is] a very dear friend of mine, his wife and two young children died.” While watching it unfold on television along with millions of others, he certainly would not have predicted that a decade later he would revisit the tragedy since known as “26/11” from the security of Hotel Mumbai’s film set in Adelaide, Australia as he took on the titular role of Hemant Oberoi, the hotel’s head chef.

 

Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film Hotel Mumbai
Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film Hotel Mumbai: (L-R) Dev Patel as Arjun and Anupam Kher as Oberoi. Photo Credit: Kerry Monteen / Bleecker Street

 

Oberoi’s heroism during the port city’s darkest days would prove to be legendary. He along with his staff protected a number of hotel guests while under siege for an unimaginable 68 hours. And it’s that specific story of bravery (among many others) that Greek-Australian filmmaker Anthony Maras wanted to hone in on, when he decided to give this chapter of Mumbai’s history the cinematic treatment.

Hotel Mumbai (opening today) boasts a stellar cast which also includes Oscar winner Dev Patel (Lion) who plays Arjun, one of the dedicated staff who works with Oberoi, Armie Hammer (Call Me By Your Name) and Naznin Boniadi (Homeland) who together play a young vacationing couple who end up separated from their newborn during the terrifying ordeal.

It was during the three-hour meeting in Mumbai that Maras offered Kher the role. And it was then that Kher couldn’t ignore the level of passion that Maras brought to the project. He knew that he needed to be a part of it. “The film — according to me — isn’t only about a terrorist attack,” he noted. “It’s also about heroes among ordinary people. It’s about the courage you discover in such a situation.”

Maras’ Mission

“Until you feel the pain, you won’t get through it” Kher recalled the director’s specific direction during rehearsals. He wanted everyone to understand that this film needed to be an experience for the viewer. Maras wanted the audience to feel as though they too were under siege along with Oberoi, Arjun and the guests. And it worked.

There isn’t a flashy opening nor a bombastic soundtrack. The frenetic pace of the film was buoyed by the clean (and at times disturbing) tight shots thanks to Nick Remy Matthews the director of photography for the film. There wasn’t much room for nuance. But then again, terrorist attacks don’t usually have room for it either. The film forces you to not only see the shock but to also see the humanity that emerges from within and the courage that the Taj staff including Oberoi managed to muster.

Delivering such an intense performance was no easy task. “It was emotionally and physically exhausting,” Kher revealed. “At the end of the day we used to call each other up because no one wanted to be on their own. We all used to go for dinners and that’s how we dealt with the 32 days we shot in Adelaide because it will start again the next day.”

 

Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film Hotel Mumbai
Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film Hotel Mumbai: Director Anthony Maras (left) with Dev Patel on set. Photo Credit: Kerry Monteen / Bleecker Street

 

An Emotional Journey

“The parallel life with the Taj is also chronicled in one’s life.” Kher — originally from Shimla — recalled. His love affair with the iconic landmark started the minute he landed in Mumbai at the dawn of his acting career. It was one of the first places he needed to see with his own eyes. “As a struggling actor, the first idea was to go see the Taj hotel from the outside.” Eventually he made his way in to experience its legendary opulence, “When I collected 7 rupees, I wanted to go and have a cup of tea there because it cost 3 rupees at that time.” The hotel is intimately connected to the actor as that was also the location of his first film’s opening night celebrations which was 500 films ago.

 

Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film Hotel Mumbai
Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film Hotel Mumbai. Photo Credit: Bleecker Street

 

Fast forward to Kher’s very first viewing of the completed film at the Toronto International Film Festival last September. He found himself in tears. This visceral reaction resurfaced most recently at the film’s New York premiere a couple of weeks ago, where he “continuously cried.” Among the New York cinephiles sat the real Hemant Oberoi. Surprisingly this would be Kher’s first meeting with the noted chef (due to the sensitive nature, he respectfully decided not to have Oberoi relive the account for him, Maras however did glean pertinent information from Oberoi during his year-long pre-production research). So what did Oberoi think of Kher’s portrayal? “He said ‘Only you can do the film. Thank you,’” Kher reminisced. “And that was greater than any award I’ve received.”

 

Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film Hotel Mumbai
Anupam Kher On His Emotional Journey Reliving 26/11 In The Critically Acclaimed Film Hotel Mumbai: Chef Hemant Oberoi in front of The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel. Photo Credit: www.nbcews.com

 

With Hotel Mumbai being his 501st film Kher envisioned that surpassing the 500 mark would be a landmark in itself but he didn’t realize that this would be even more significant “due to the emotional connection.”

He understood that this film will be different from others on so many levels where the traditional markers of success ie: box office returns and nominations may not apply here. Kher emphasized that it’s an important film to see as it serves a remarkable purpose: it “jolts” you from your ordinary routine, forces you to be present and feel the impact of your life while feeling compassion for each other. And, of course, understanding that there’s courage inside all of us.

“I’m an eternal optimist. It’s very important that we need to trust people. Chef Oberoi was not a hero when he left home. It was during this experience where he discovered that about himself.”

Hotel Mumbai opens in theatres today.

 

Main Image Photo Credit: Mark Rogers / Bleecker Street

 

 

 

 

Hina P. Ansari

Hina P. Ansari

Author

Hina P. Ansari is a graduate from The University of Western Ontario (London, Ontario). Since then she has carved a successful career in Canada's national fashion-publishing world as the Entertainment/Photo Editor at FLARE Magazine, Canada's national fashion magazine. She was the first South Asian in...

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