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Bollywood film recreates Mumbai attacks of 2008

People walk underneath a promotional billboard for Ram Gopal Varma's film "The Attacks of 26/11" by a roadside in Mumbai February 28, 2013.
People walk underneath a promotional billboard for Ram Gopal Varma's film "The Attacks of 26/11" by a roadside in Mumbai February 28, 2013.

By Shilpa Jamkhandikar

MUMBAI (Reuters) - A dramatized Bollywood account of the Mumbai attacks of 2008, when 166 people died in a three-day rampage, opened in Indian cinemas on Friday to present an unusually emotive tale told from the perspective of a police officer.

"The Attacks of 26/11" chronicles the events that began on November 26 2008, when 10 gunmen went on a killing spree throughout the coastal city, attacking two luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish center, among other places.

It is the latest in a recent spate of Bollywood movies taking inspiration from real-life incidents, a practice that used to be unusual. Just over the last few years, there have been films on the gruesome murder of a model and a daring bank heist.

The film's director, Ram Gopal Varma, said he decided to make the film to try and answer questions about how a small handful of attackers was able to lay siege to a vast metropolis the size of Mumbai.

"How can 10 men hold a city of 1.5 crore (15 million) people to siege? That is something everyone should know," Varma told Reuters.

The film focuses on the city police and their response to the attacks, for which India blames the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, with veteran actor Nana Patekar playing a high ranking Mumbai police officer referred to only as "joint police commissioner."

Patekar's character, based on a real policeman, narrates the film, which portrays in graphic detail how the hapless police force, caught completely unawares, struggles to cope with an attack of such enormity.

At one point he frantically tells a government official, "I don't know what to do."

"You need to understand that the police were confused and didn't know what to do," Varma said. "If you were in their shoes, you would react the same way to an incident of this magnitude. It is important to understand their point of view."

Advertising posters show a group of 10 men, the attackers, in a dinghy heading towards the iconic sea-facing Taj Mahal hotel, one of the most recognized buildings in Mumbai - a nod to the powerful shock and emotions the attack still evokes, symbolized by the hotel.

Varma himself has fallen afoul of these still unhealed emotional scars, setting off controversy several times.

The first came just days after the attack, when he was seen at the Taj Mahal hotel with a major politician and accused of insensitivity for visiting the site so soon after the disaster and of gathering material for a film, which he denied.

Last November, a political ally of the government said shooting at the actual locations of the attack "mocked" Mumbai residents.

"Seeing broken glass or grenade dust isn't going to help me make a film," said Varma, who has directed around 40 movies in the past 25 years.

"But after two and a half years, once the investigations were completed and the charge sheet was filed ... that is when I had the time to study it and that is when the idea of making a film came into my mind," he said.

So far, the movie has garnered mixed reviews. While a critic for news channel NDTV said some moments in the film were "gripping enough to touch some raw nerves," a review for mainstream newspaper DNA wasn't as kind.

"'The Attacks of 26/11' ends up being a confused piece of work that has neither the well researched methodology of a documentary nor the dramatics of a feature film," critic Tushar Joshi wrote.

(Editing By Tony Tharakan and Elaine Lies)

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