One of my many faves, Dev Patel, is back on the screen, and he’s got us rooting for him more than ever in the trailer for his upcoming film, Hotel Mumbai. The film is based on the real events of the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai India (which you can read more about at the place many of us start our inquiry for tough topics, Wikipedia).
If you’re not a stranger to the site, then you are probably well aware of my love for Dev Patel. The 28-year-old actor has had QUITE the glow-up since Slumdog Millionaire. Maybe it’s the hair. Maybe it’s the beard. Maybe it’s his startling maturity. But whatever it is, IT. IS. WORKING. I’m showing thirst, I know, but thirst experts Bim Adewunmi and Nichole Perkins of Thirst Aid Kit (and guest, Vulture writer Hunter Harris) know how to articulate the thirst for Patel much better than me.
However, Patel, like any good actor, hasn’t gone throughout his career without a few clunkers. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel series, for instance, probably stands among his lowest ranked stuff (as well as The Last Airbender). So imagine my worry when I learned he was in Hotel Mumbai.
When I first read about this trailer, I had the same reaction SlashFilm’s Ben Pearson had: “With this and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel franchise, it seems like Dev Patel has a thing for starring in hotel-related films, doesn’t it?” Since the film is also about terrorism and white tourists, I was fearful that the trailer would show white people at the center of the film, when tourists and Indians alike were either killed or running from danger.
When I watched the trailer, though, my fears about Patel starring in yet another subservient role subsided. The trailer showcases what looks like a taut, tense thriller that reveals India as much more than what it’s usually shown as in films like Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. India isn’t just some place you can run to quickly gain enlightenment; it’s a place where real people live and work. It’s vibrant and complicated, like any country.
Similarly, Patel’s character Arjun isn’t a magical mystical Indian person who feels no fear; he’s a regular guy trying to take care of his growing family. It just so happens that he’s one of the staff members on call as the attack takes place. He’s just as fearful as anyone there, yet, because he’s on the job, he has to make sure the patrons (which include Armie Hammer and Nazanin Boniadi’s characters David and Zahra) remain as safe as possible. Even though his life is on the line, he has to rise to the occasion, and what an impossible occasion it is.
The fact that folks aren’t acting in any type of stereotypical way is something I’m very relieved about. You might be wondering why I’m so obsessed with that. Well, it’s not for any kind of “SJW” reason or whatever detractors might think. It’s because Hollywood has a habit of centering everything, including tragedy, around whiteness. Take for instance The Impossible, also based on real events, in this case, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. It whitewashed the victims at the center of the film, a Spanish family, into white British characters played by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. Even worse, critics have accused it of having no disregard for the sheer amount of devastation that occurred to the southeast Asians who call the area around the Indian Ocean home.
This isn’t the only instance in which Hollywood has tried it when it comes to who’s allowed to feel pain, but this is one of the more recent egregious cases. And it’s a perfect counterpoint to Hotel Mumbai, since they’re both based on real events. However, it seems like just from this trailer alone, Hotel Mumbai is showing how to discuss a horrific event without centering characters over others due to some backwards racial politics. Instead, it feels like everyone’s at risk, and everyone has to do what they can to stay alive.
With that said, I’m interested to see how this film will do once it hits theaters March 29. No doubt it’ll be another notch Patel can carve into his belt. And hopefully, this film will raise the game of how the film industry approaches the exploration of disaster on the big screen.
Now, if we could just get that rom-com between Patel and Octavia Spencer based solely on the fire chemistry they had during their “Actors on Actors” Variety interview, I’d be set.