‘Hotel Mumbai’ Director and Writer Deny Film Is ‘Overly Sympathetic to Terrorists’

“It’s a movie, for goodness sakes,” Anthony Maras and John Collee say after fact-based drama was pulled from New Zealand cinemas this week

Hotel Mumbai Anthony Maras
Bleecker Street/Getty Images

The filmmakers behind “Hotel Mumbai” have pushed back at criticism that their film is “overly sympathetic to terrorists” in the wake of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Director and co-writer Anthony Maras and co-writer John Collee clarified that they made the decision this week along with New Zealand distributor Icon Film Distribution to suspend the release of “Hotel Mumbai” from New Zealand cinemas, where it had already opened on March 14. In a joint statement given to TheWrap, Maras and Collee defended the hyper-realistic and intense film.

“The Christchurch attack was a tragic mirror image of Mumbai. We pulled the film from NZ cinemas as it’s clearly such a loaded issue in that place at that time,” Maras and Collee said. “However, we reject the idea that real life acts of violence should not be the subject of drama. If that were the case, we’d lose half of our cultural heritage at a stroke.”

“Hotel Mumbai” depicts a 2008 terrorist attack in which members of the Islamic Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group carried out a series of 12 coordinated attacks across Mumbai landmarks, ultimately killing at least 164 people and wounding over 300. The film focuses specifically on the Taj Mahal Hotel, which was under siege for days as the staff and guests awaited special forces.

Maras and Collee said the film has been criticized for both “exploiting the suffering of the victims” and for being “overly sympathetic to the terrorists.”

“It’s interesting that our film which emphasises the diversity of the victims, and does attempt to humanise the gunmen, has been attacked for stoking racial tensions, for exploiting the suffering of the victims and — simultaneously, for being overly sympathetic to the terrorists,” Maras and Collee said. “It’s a movie for goodness sakes, based on first hand accounts and endorsed by many of those who experienced these events.”

Maras and Collee continued: “None of the protagonists was entirely noble nor were they entirely evil. Everyone is a product of their upbringing and experience. Drama can only illuminate that fact; but we now live in such a polarised, hyper-partisan world that whatever you say, however even handed or – yes – truthful and realistic you attempt to be, there’s a certain number of commentators who will instantly take offence [sic] at some perceived bias, rather than considering the work as a whole.”

In a separate interview with TheWrap, Maras responded to a question of how the film might be perceived differently in the wake of the New Zealand attack. He cited a scene between the gunman and one of the victims in which the gunman is unable to bring himself to execute a woman when she begins to pray and express her Muslim faith.

“Our film is not anti-Islamic by any means. For us it’s a plea for peace. It’s an indictment of extremism,” Maras said. “What I hope audiences take away from it, is that in the Taj Hotel itself — and this is one of the main reasons we focused on this — you had people of all walks of life. You had Hindus, you had Muslims, you had Christians, you had people from vastly different socially economic backgrounds, who despite their differences came together to survive and become heroes. It’s extremism that the film seeks to indict, not anything else.”

“Hotel Mumbai” opens Friday in the U.S. via Bleecker Street and ShivHans Pictures.

Sharon Waxman contributed to this report.