Anupam Kher: “It was important to me for a film like Hotel Mumbai to be shown to the rest of the world.”

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Directed by Anthony Maras, Hotel Mumbai is a gripping true story of humanity and heroism that vividly recounts the 2008 siege of the famed Taj Hotel by a group of terrorists in Mumbai, India and the dedicated staff who chose to risk their lives to protect their guests. Starring Anupam Kher as the renowned chef Hemant Oberoi and Dev Patel as a waiter in the hotel, it also features Armie Hammer, Nazanin Boniadi, Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Jason Isaacs. Hotel Mumbai draws audiences into the epicenter of the attack and highlights ordinary people from all walks of life whose response to this nightmarish scenario revealled their courage and resilience that unite us when we need it most. In gripping, realistic detail, the film speaks to the humanity that shines from within the tragedy.

This movie takes you inside the terror of this tragic event. To give you an idea here is the trailer.

Esteemed actor Anupam Kher is absolutely one of my favorite people to talk with about his work because our interviews always become conversations and he really gives amazingly thoughtful answers. With this special talk about Hotel Mumbai, we not only talk about the film and the trauma of filming this story and playing this character, but also his equation and bond with Dev Patel and his admiration for director Anthony Maras and more.

Besides the importance of telling this story, Mr. Kher revealed why he choose to do Hotel Mumbai. “I think it is a fantastic role. See, when you are in a business for so many years because of the roles that I have done and the movies that I do… I have done all kinds of films. Now, I want to choose lesser films because I am doing so many other things. When I heard the story and when I got to know that this film was being made and that I was offered Chef Oberoi’s role I straight away wanted to do it.”

Adding that his decision was also based on how the story was told, “This story is closer to my heart because when this happened, I was in India – in Mumbai. Being there and experiencing that had its scars, both emotional and the trauma because we knew a lot of people who were victims of this incident, friends who lost their lives, friends who lost their family members. So, one does not want to confront a situation like this. I thought it is important to tell stories even though it makes you uncomfortable.”

It is a brilliant film, with outstanding performances but very uncomfortable and at times a very hard film to watch because it is so real. The actor says that was another reason he wanted to be a part of this film, “It is important to tell uncomfortable stories for the world to come together. For the world to show their solidarity with the people who have lost their dear ones in situations like this. We can’t replace them, we can’t change anything about it, we can’t change the way their life is going to be but the thing that we can do is show our compassion to such people, you know. Hotel Mumbai does display the unbelievable amount of resilience of the people, of the staff, they were not warriors, they did not believe in heroism or something like that, they were common people working in a 5-star hotel, their background was middle class, lower middle class and when a situation like this happens they actually displayed the logo of the hotel ‘That Guest is God’. It was important for a film like this to be told to the rest of the world.”

He added, “Anthony Maras had a very humane angle to it. He was basically talking about the compassion and the hidden heroism of the common people under these circumstances.”

Talking about becoming Chef Hemant Oberoi, Mr. Kher says, “For me, I did not meet Chef Oberoi, before I finished the film… for 2-3 reasons. One is that I didn’t want Chef Oberoi to go through that whole trauma again and then I am an enthusiastic actor asking… tell me what happened. I thought it was not the right thing to do to invade his personal private moment, which he must have gone through. Also, I don’t like to meet people who I am playing because I feel that sometimes the greedy, over smart, actor wants to pick up habits of their subject and sort of say this is how he moves his head….”

“What was important here was to capture the SOUL of Chef Oberoi in this film.” He continues, “What was it that he did, what was it that he felt…He could have been anybody he could have been a chef, he could have been a shopkeeper, he could have been anybody…he was a person who was a husband, a father, and a senior to all his colleagues. Anthony was so full of material and we had gone through exercises. It was all there in the script. I didn’t have to do extra research. See the initial sequence where I am playing the role of the chef a very easy thing to do because you just have to show authority and it was there in the way Anthony shot those scenes, etc. To give the choice to his people the leadership quality in the scene where I tell that staff member there is no shame in going, I will understand that you have to go. But then…”

It was difficult to play this role and be put into that terrifying situation, “Yes, living those moments with truth was traumatic! See in certain movies you depend on craft, 90% of movies you depend on craft and then emotions but in certain movies 90% emotion is important and required and then craft. Craft took a back seat when I was playing Chef Oberoi.”

When I was watching the film, I saw that a lot of the times he had to be the strong leader but then he had to have the fear in his eyes. I saw and felt the fear in his eyes, so I wondered how did he get into that place? “Sometimes you do things because you want somebody to ask you a question like that.”

Adding, “That’s a fact and really you want to better yourself. That’s my job to portray that. I would have been less loyal if I did not work hard.”

He also revealed something very interesting about what happened during the shoot, “Anthony created an atmosphere that he had recorded some gun shots and in the middle of a shot he would just play them. So, you would genuinely feel that jerk and the fear in your eyes. The breathing, the exercise of the whole thing, the horror… you have to transport yourself to that horror. See when you see if from an outsider’s point of view, you don’t actually imagine what must be happening inside – unfortunately it is the statistics of how many people died that is conveyed through the media to the world. But inside when that thing is happening you had to imagine that. You had to actually imagine that fear that you can die anytime, the urgency to reach out to love ones, and think about what they will do. This whole thing happened for 3 days. It was not sudden and not that it justifies anything, but it was for three days, to go through that 72 hours, to go through this and the not knowing. Especially the chambers where Chef Oberoi hides those people and the terrorists are outside the door. You can’t fake this emotion because it is based on reality.”

It seemed as if he really had a special relationship with Dev Patel and there was a last scene where the two hugged that seemed so real and true… “Yes! I have always said with Dev – it was love at first sight! I think he is a wonderful boy. I really love him very much and vice versa he also says that. I think we also bonded together when we shot together in Adelaide, we used to go out to dinner every night because what we were going through during the day, we needed to sort of be together in the night for some time also. It was very important. It is the easiest thing in the world to like people according to me – it was more easy to like Dev. There is so much love in him. Fortunately, by the time we did that last scene it was shot also at the end of it, the end of the plot. We had gone through all of it and the bonding together and this trauma together and when we were doing that, I don’t think it we did more than one take. The moment that we looked at each other we had tears and really both of us howled.”

It truly was such a pure moment… “It was, it was. There was no acting involved in that at all,” he replied.

I imagined it was. Hotel Mumbai was a hard film to let go of since he was there in Mumbai at the time and he did have to go through all of the story. He answered not only for him but the entire cast and crew, “Yes! Yes! I am sure it did change our lives as people. It is some thing or another that when you do certain roles and you are part of certain movies the person in you also goes through a certain change. I think Hotel Mumbai certainly is one of those films.”

We also discussed how wonderful the fact that Anthony Maras, a non-Indian, was so moved that he had to tell the story to the world. “There are two incidents where I thought… how brilliant. Richard Attenborough who made the film Gandhi, and it has to be an Australian that makes a film on Hotel Mumbai. That whole subjectivity, that whole oh no no no we would have done it different, I think that this defies that! You know we may be Indians, Australians, British, Europeans, Americans, but we are human beings and we are governed by certain emotions of drama, of happiness, of joy. There is no language for these 9 emotions that we always talk about, that we all feel. If a person is pained in Sydney, his pain or her pain is no different from somebody’s pain in New York, or in Delhi or in Bombay. It’s your own sensitivities so I think Anthony did show a great amount of compassion toward a subject like this.”

Mr. Kher saw the film at its premiere at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival. Saying it turned out to be a wonderful movie it was also very, very difficult to watch. “You feel so many emotions while watching this film. When I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival I cried and cried and cried until the curtain went down. It is a wonderful film.”

We also touched on his outstanding turn as Dr. Vijay Kapoor on the NBC show New Amsterdam. “I am so happy with it! It is doing very well! It is going superb! There are 3 or 4 nice episodes coming up, which I know you will love, before we end until next season.”

Hotel Mumbai is in theaters in NY and LA March 22, 2019 and then hits theaters Nationwide March 29, 2019.

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