Feature Name: Mumbai Diaries 26/11
Cast: Konkona Sen Sharma, Mohit Raina, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Mrunmayee Deshpande, Natasha Bharadwaj, Satyajeet Dubey, Tina Desai, Prakash Belawadi, Indraneel Bhattacharya
Director: Nikhil Advani and Nikhil Gonsalves
It is never without some trepidation that one approaches a film or a web series that takes upon itself. The onus of chronicling the horrors of the coordinated Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008.
It has been attempted a number of times. But almost none of these endeavours has gone beyond the predictable and pulpy.
In these filmed accounts, the inhumanity of the armed, indoctrinated intruders, the heroism of the police and the paramilitary forces. The suffering of the innocents caught unawares and, more often than not, a large helping of jingoistic bellicosity make up the bulwark of a narrative aimed at entertaining, shocking, provoking and moving the audience.
An eight-episode web show created by Nikkhil Advani and streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Employs a few of the above components all right. But it skirts around most of the pitfalls of a genre that yields fare that is often blatantly manipulative, if not outrightly exploitative.
The focus of Mumbai Diaries 26/11 is principally on a crowded, chaotic and low-on-resources government hospital whose doctors and nurses. They are stretched to their limits as victims with gunshot wounds are wheeled in one after another on the night of November 26.
It would, however, be erroneous to call the series a medical thriller. It is much more.
True, medical professionals are at the core of the story. But they aren’t the only ones under the spotlight. Mumbai Diaries 26/11is about a day in the lives of the people of the city that never sleeps.
This was a night that the city simply did not have the option of dozing off. It had to be on its toes to fight off an unprecedented threat.
This gripping, high-intensity drama about that dark night without end is both heart-stopping and heart-breaking. It hits you in the guts and sends you reeling even.
As it guides you into emergency rooms, corridors, stairwells and basements to witness the enormity of the courage and determination that men and women of the city demonstrated in the face of death.
Konkona Sen Sharma, Mohit Raina, Prakash Belawadi, Mrunmayee Deshpande, Satyajeet Dubey and Natasha Bharadwaj. Besides a slew of other competent performers, constitute a cast of actors who heighten the power of the multi-layered story.
Not one note that any of them strikes in this tense thriller is out of place.
The storytelling is spot-on. It creates a gallery of tormented and scalded characters who confront their own inner demons. And tap all the grit and tenacity at their command to navigate the nightmare that none is prepared for.
They all have their backs to the wall and not just professionally.
The characters aren’t mere props in a larger tale of courage under fire. The drama is about them – each one of them – and their exploits.
The emphasis is squarely on their humanity. One begins to care about the people on the screen not just because these are people who are desperate.
Not to wilt even as they count their losses but also because they mirror what we could all be like.
The great thing about most of the principal characters in Mumbai Diaries 26/11 – women outnumber men in the cast. It is that each of their stories could have yielded a standalone show. Star surgeon Kaushik Oberoi (Mohit Raina).
It is a workaholic professional who thrives on challenges but has the tendency to flout rules and regulations in the line of duty.
He frequently runs afoul of the hospital’s chief medical officer Mani Subramaniam (Prakash Belawadi) on account of his impulsive but usually effective ways.
The social services director of the hospital, Chitra Das (Konkona Sen Sharma), accords to her job all the seriousness it deserves.
She isn’t one to be cowed down by attempts by a particular doctor on the hospital’s roster to suppress her altruistic instincts.
But she struggles to live down a bad marriage that has left deep scars on her mind and heart.
The show makes a firm comment on the role of the media, especially the speed to break a story, depicted through Mansi. A young and pushy TV news reporter who must face up to the ramifications of her thoughtless actions.
Shreya Dhanwanthary’s character doesn’t get her redemption, nor does the actor get a layered enough part to pull out any surprises.
Terrific production design, editing, action and a haunting musical score coupled with sensitive performances by the lead cast, particularly Raina, Sensharma, Prakash Belawadi as hospital director Subramaniam, Dubey, Desai. Sandesh Kulkarni as a police officer, Sonali Sachdev as Diya’s mother Shamita Parekh and Mishal Raheja as a visiting doctor contribute to an immersive viewing experience.
Mumbai Diaries 26/11 wants to be a taut, muscular thriller. But the anatomy is somewhat bloated by the need to shove in more heart than necessary.
The series is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.