Year Released: 2019
Directed by: Anthony Maras
Starring: Armie Hammer, Jason Isaacs, Nazanin Boniadi, Dev Patel
(R, 123 min.)
“Remember always, here at the Taj, guest is God.” Hemant Oberoi
Pull up a front seat to India’s 9/11, where over 171 people were killed in a three day siege of Mumbai in 2008. We get an overview of the carnage, but the close focus on several victims and perpetrators at a luxury hotel makes us feel like we are right there with them.
The story recounts the 2008 siege of the famed Taj Hotel by a group of terrorists in Mumbai, India. Among the dedicated hotel staff is the renowned chef Hemant Oberoi (Anupam Kher) and a waiter, Arjun (Dev Patel), who choose to risk their lives to protect their guests. As the world watches on, a desperate couple, David and Zahra (Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi), are forced to make unthinkable sacrifices to protect their newborn child.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the film is understanding what motivates the characters.
The high profile guests must be catered to at a level of luxury few of us will ever know. The mindset of the staff that meets their needs is best exemplified in the Head Chef and real life character, Hemant Oberoi (Anupan Kher). He runs his kitchen with a discipline that would put most drill sergeants to shame.
“Remember always, here at the Taj, guest is God,” he reminds them, and they hop to it. They cater to the particularly crude Russian influential operative Vasili’s, (Jason Isaacs) rock star style excess, as well as more domestic intricacies of a well-heeled newlywed, her American husband, and their new baby.
Is it a boy or a girl? The staff is not sure, so they opt for both blue and pink complimentary infant wear welcoming David (Armie Hammer) and Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi) to their room.
This meticulous suite contrasts with the crowded shabby quarters Arjun (Dev Patel), part of the wait staff, shares with his very pregnant wife and their daughter. But Arjun, a Sikh who cares for his personal grooming – mustache, beard, and turban – with a spiritual devotion, is not al all put off by this discrepancy. Having lost his shoes on a harried motorcycle ride to work, he accepts the head chef’s command. He will not be allowed to work with the loose sandals he has somehow acquired at the hotel, but since he badly needs his paycheck, Arjun maneuvers into the much smaller dress shoes the head chef lends him. Not quite as bad a Cinderell’s stepsister cutting off her toe to fit into the glass slipper, but pretty painful all the same, especially when later on, he is literally running for his life.
Yet Chef Oberoi has a heart, too, a very brave one at that, as he decides to stay on to save the guests under his wing. This particular interchange shows not ony his humanity, but the devotion of the staff as well:
Hemant Oberoi: [to his staff] We should try to gather whoever we can. Many of you have families at home. There is no shame in leaving.
Butler Jamon: I have been here thirty-five years. This is my home.
We watch the brutal killings by the machine gun wielding terrorists and certainly cannot feel sympathy for them, but we do at least perhaps understand their fanaticism. From their boat landing along the piles of debris at water’s edge, to their well planned multiple killings, they are in constant contact with the leader, the Bull, as he is called, who alternately keeps reminding them of their duty to Allah, their impending martyrdom and assured paradise, as well as the money promised their families afterward.
Hardened as they are, they are but young boys, almost, pawns to this leader who is only an unembodied voice on their phone sets. He is completely clear of danger and accountability, egging them on with tales of their eternal glory.
That, in reality, the Bull was ultimately caught, but eventually let go by the Pakistani courts, attests to this inner corruption that repeats itself through the ages, sending young boys to bleed for old men’s wars.
Yet the individual acts of courage and sacrifice offer a glimpse of hope for us all.
As Charles Dickens once reminded us, “These were the best of times, the worst of times, … it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the season of hope, it was the winter of despair.
Well worth a trip to the cinema for discriminating viewers.
I’ll let some of the Taj guests, aka The Luxury Couple, share their favorite cocktail with you.
Our barman at the Taj enticed us with his 1933 Harbour Cocktail (famous at the Taj since it was devised for some American visitors to celebrate the end of Prohibition) and as a result he saw more of us than anyone else in the hotel over the three days we spent there! Not that our life necessarily revolves around alcohol, or that we’re particularly partial to cocktails – finding them too sweet for the most part – but this one is superb; we’re definitely hooked on it. Try making it yourself but for a true master’s touch you really need to be sitting in the Harbour Bar of the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Colaba, chatting over the day’s events with a large chilled glass in your hand.
The Taj Harbour Cocktail
Gather together Gin, Green Chartreuse, Peach liqueur, pineapple juice, cranberry juice and a fresh apple and pomegranate. Pour 5 oz.of peach liqueur, 4 oz. of pineapple juice and 2 oz of cranberry juice and stir well together with a large scoop of ice into a large glass. Add 2 oz. of gin into the mix to liven it up. Put 1 oz. of Green Chartreuse into a brandy glass and leave it to warm over a flame. Give the juice mix a thorough shaking with a touch of flair by waving your arms around in true cocktail barman style and decant it into your cocktail glass of choice. Take the warmed Green Chartreuse and flambé it. Cascade the toasted liquor whilst still alight into your eagerly awaiting cocktail. Top it all off with a generous but not overwhelming helping of freshly sliced apple and pomegranate.