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Bollywood film takes hard look at Mumbai attacks

July 14, 2009|Rama Lakshmi | Rama Lakshmi writes for the Washington Post

MUMBAI, INDIA — Auditioning in December for the role of a Bollywood villain, Rajan Verma was asked to act like a man attacking a train or a building. He clutched a toy gun and spewed out what he hoped sounded like a venomous diatribe.

Verma, 28, had no idea what the movie was about. But when the casting director handed him a black T-shirt, beige cargo pants, a blue backpack and a replica of an AK-47 assault rifle, he knew instantly. He was being asked to play one of the alleged assailants in the terrorist attacks launched against Mumbai on Nov. 26 -- a date Indians refer to as 26/11.

"We all know Ajmal Amir Kasab's look," Verma said of the lone gunman captured during the three-day siege, who is now on trial for his alleged part in the deaths of more than 170 people, including six Americans. "I immediately refused the role. I did not want to glamorize this diabolical man."

In the end, Verma took the role, and the film, "Total Ten," is to be released this summer. It is the first of a slew of planned movies seeking to revive the horror that paralyzed Mumbai.

During the siege, which India has accused Pakistan-based Islamist groups of engineering, 10 gunmen attacked 10 sites in the city, including two five-star hotels, a train station and a Jewish outreach center. Since then, filmmakers have registered more than 30 movie titles for projects centered on the attacks, including "Taj Terror," "Operation 5-Star Mumbai" and "26/11 Mumbai Under Terror."

"Four films have been made on the Kennedy assassination. People still watch," said Surinder Suri, the director of "Total Ten."

"Some stories will always remain an enigma to the human mind, no matter how many times they are explored."

Suri said that his movie opens with 10 men setting out from Pakistan by boat and arriving in Mumbai after a harrowing trip across the choppy Arabian Sea. It focuses on Kasab's story, with flashbacks to the alleged gunman's training in Pakistan and a sequence depicting him killing passengers and policemen at the train station before his arrest on the streets outside. The final scene shows residents pouring into the streets to light candles and shots of the wreathed bodies of policemen and soldiers killed in the attacks.

Unlike typical Bollywood offerings, "Total Ten" will have no song-and-dance numbers and no romantic subplot. The film was shot in three cities between December and April. In Mumbai, Suri shot at the sites of the attacks, causing massive traffic jams as thousands of people gathered to watch. Some bystanders appeared frightened when they spotted Verma, dressed like a gun-wielding Kasab, walking around the train station.

Getting permission from police to film scenes at the actual sites was not easy.

"They said: 'It's all over now. Let it be,' " Suri said. "The police are in a hurry to forget it, because they lost so many officers."

But, he added, "the film will be Mumbai's catharsis."

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