Until Friday in Christchurch, many of us dismissed the ‘war on terror’ as just another political construct used to win votes. Last week’s horrific attack has inevitably cast this movie in a more coruscating light. ‘Jihad’ and its murderous mindset is not exclusive to Islam. This bruising, exhausting recreation of the events of 2008 in Mumbai, when ten gunmen laid siege to the iconic Taj Hotel and other points in the city, is a gruesome portrayal of fanatics and their blind determination to destroy everything that is not embraced by their world view. Australian director Anthony Maras does not beat around the bush in his condemnation of Islamic extremism, but nor does he tar all Muslims with the same brush – the central female character who has our strong sympathy (Nazanin Boniadi) is a Muslim. And he is keen to make the point that many of the killers are uneducated, brainwashed boys who themselves are at the mercy of hateful, unseen manipulators who never go near the coal face of the operations they oversee. The violence is shocking, but necessarily so, and unlike in most blockbuster adventures and gangster flicks, there is absolutely no sense of ‘isn’t this fun’, and no rejoicing in the carnage. Most of the characters are fictional, but the efforts of the head chef (played with pukka solidity by Anupam Kher) are not only factual but downright amazing. Dev Patel (‘Lion’) is Arjun, the Sikh waiter around whom the narrative is constructed, and he grows into the role of unlikely hero as the desperate hours pass. Indeed, it is his very ordinariness as the young father with a pregnant wife, struggling to make ends meet in one of the city’s crowded slums, which gives the movie its humanity – as does the terrorist who cries on the phone to his father in Pakistan. Archival footage is seamlessly interspersed, providing chilling realism as the almost unbearable tension mounts. This is not a movie for the faint-hearted, but it is also incredibly moving. A must see, and horribly relevant.
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