Amish Tripathi, the Director of the Nehru Centre in London, marked the November 26, 2008, terror attacks anniversary with a special conversation with actor Anupam Kher, who portrayed the real-life character of a chef at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai caught up in the gruesome attack.
In Tripathi’s own words:
“The Mumbai Terror Attacks of 26/11, that occurred 12 years ago, have left a deep scar on the soul of India, and indeed the entire world. Ten Pakistani terrorists attacked the Indian city of Mumbai on the 26th of November 2008, and caused the deaths of over 170 people from over 17 countries.
“Citizens of the UK were also among those killed. We at the Nehru Centre, wanted to pay homage to the victims of this tragedy. But we realised that this is not just a story of the monstrosity of the Pakistani terrorists, this is also the story of the supreme courage, sense of duty and dharma of many ordinary Indians during the attacks. The security officials were exceptionally brave, but so were the railway staff at the Mumbai CST [Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus] and hotel staff at various hotels, who sacrificed their lives to save innocent passengers and guests.
“A movie that legendary actor Anupam Kher had acted in, called ‘Hotel Mumbai’, had shown this story, primarily from the point of view of the innocent, but exceptionally brave staff and guests of the Taj Hotel, Mumbai. Anupam ji is not just a brilliant actor, but also a thoughtful human being, who does quiet but significant work in charity as well.
“We discussed his views on the attacks, what he thought of the tragedy, both as someone who played a role in a movie based on it and as a Mumbaikar at the time.
“He ended the programme with an inspiring and positive message: that humanity will win and we will never bow down to terror.”
Based on the events of 26/11 and directed by Anthony Maras, ‘Hotel Mumbai’ is a film that narrates the gripping story of those caught up inside the hotel, including brave Chef Hemant Oberoi, executive chef at the Taj Mahal Hotel who saved the lives of many.
Kher was in Mumbai shooting for a film at the time when news broke out of a rumoured shootout between underworld gangs. Gradually, it was confirmed as a terrorist attack.
Reflecting on that moment, Kher said: “As it was happening, we would come to know our friends were there. The fact it could happen in the financial capital of India, we were feeling helpless. So many people died.
“When I was approached for the role of Chef Oberoi for ‘Hotel Mumbai’, all those memories came back. We knew what had happened outside of the hotel, but we did not know the story was about the courage, resilience and compassion of the people who were inside.”
In his 36-year cinematic career, Kher has essayed many characters and roles. On portraying a role connected to an event that shook him, India and the entire world, the veteran actor added: “I leave my work when the shoot is finished, but this wasn’t the case when working on ‘Hotel Mumbai’ and playing Chef Oberoi. I had to feel the emotions, and every time I felt the pain and trauma I threw up – it was a physical reaction.”
On recreating a heroic and courageous character for screen, Kher reflected upon how Hemant Oberoi never had any special training. He was simply a chef living his passion and earning a living. Yet the calmness and compassion he projected on 26/11, not knowing if he would live to see his family, was what drove Kher’s work in the film.
He recalls: “When I was portraying Chef Oberoi, to me it was more so important that I mixed the right amount of dignity, fear, compassion and warmth the way he must have done it. At the Toronto Film Festival, he paid me the best compliment, when I said Mr Oberoi I hope I did just justice to you as an actor; he said if anybody could have done this role, it was you.
“So, I think that compliment is always going to be bigger than any big prize I will get as an actor.”