It’s not an easy task recreating a horrific event that has affected so many thousands of people directly and so many millions indirectly. The terrorist attacks of 26 November, like 9/11, were a surreal spectacle for some of us—a spectacle that we helplessly watched unfold on TV. Every person has a nighmare vision or interpretation of it. What must have gone through a hostage’s mind when faced with the gunmen? What did he or she say to them? What was the last thing the Mumbai police officers say before they were shot? any of the gunmen have a moment of mercy?
When Siddharth Sengupta, director of Un Hazaron ke Naam, a film on the attacks that is going on air tonight on Star Plus to commemorate the first anniversary of the event, began writing it in 2008, he faced silent survivors. “Nobody wanted to talk to us. We could not finally meet any survivors, and had to depend entirely on newspaper reports and what was already documented,” he says. He began shooting in May 2009 to make it ready for the telecast today.
Un Hazaron ke Naam is fairly simple in narrative and purpose. It traces the night of 26 November through five stories: that of an assistant chef at the Oberoi and his parents, a couple and their daughter who went to the Taj to attend a wedding, a man who went to see off his son and daughter-in-law at the CST, the domestic help of a Jewish family at Nariman House, and a young girl who is forced to look beyond her comfortable existence.
All the characters, two of which are played by Seema Biswas and Vinod Khanna, are grappling with raw emotion and pain, because of which there is not much scope to bring out nuances of their situations. The director’s purpose is simply to bring out the emotions attached with the loss and sadness of that night. “I wanted to bring out how futile the whole thing was.
Ultimately it was about people’s pain and tears, which is why I avoided dealing with any other emotions such as rage and disillusionment that people went through,” Sengupta says.
In doing so, the film loses out on a point of view. While dealing with something as monumental as 26/11, being detached might be a sort of an achievement, but the film’s apolitical, emotional appeal also makes it tiresome towards the end. Scene after scene, there are survivors crying, grieving, contemplating.
In the aftermath of 9/11, some American critics heralded the end of the age of irony. Entertainment and art will change forever, they said, everything was black-and-white, evil or good, right or wrong. That, of course, did not happen and some of the most passionate writings and artworks about and inspired by 9/11 have explored life beyond the immediate emotions.
This film needed a bit of irony, and a variety of emotions: anger and denial, for example. A lot of people did not shed tears, and went about life as if nothing happened—their insecurity and pain are of a different sort. Biswas is excellent in her role, bringing out some of these nuances, as a mother who lost her son at the Oberoi.
All the scenes of the film were recreated on various locations; only a few shots were taken at a real location, the CST station. “We all wanted to do something after this event, and I was fortunate to have been able to do something. I hope people who actually experienced it first-hand are not hurt by the way we have tried to recreate the killings and the violence,” Sengupta says.
Un Hazaron ke Naam premieres on Star Plus tonight at 10pm. The repeat telecast is on Sunday, 29 November, on Star Plus at 8pm.