How many different ways can you tell the story of the night of November 26, 2008? Storytellers have approached and presented the events of the terror attacks on Mumbai from different perspectives. Not all heroes wear capes or carry guns. Some wear white lab coats and carry a stethoscope.
With Mumbai Diaries 26/11 (Amazon Prime Video), directors Nikkhil Advani and Nikhil Gonsalves approach the event through a medical thriller that highlights the experiences of frontline workers, emergency doctors and other hospital staff.
The eight-part series opens on the evening of November 26. As the terrorists dock their boat on Mumbai’s shores, people are getting on with their lives unprepared for the horror and carnage ahead. From the terror attacks at Leopold Cafe to The Taj Palace Hotel, the screenplay (Nikhil Gonsalves, Anushka Mehrotra and Yash Chhetija) move to Bombay General Hospital where a large number of the critically injured are brought.
In the ill-equipped and crumbling hospital, the overwhelmed staff must react with speed. This includes three trainee resident doctors. It’s the first day on the job for Ahaan (Satyajeet Dubey), Diya (Natasha Bharadwaj) and Sujata (Mrunmayee Deshpande). Working at the trauma ward under the mentorship of Dr Kaushik Oberoi (Mohit Raina) turns into the greatest test of not only skill but also character.
Just as the tension is building, the show rewinds to 11 hours earlier and then further back to two days ago. Ranging from 35 to 45 minutes, the narrative sometimes moves at a frenzied pace, at other times cuts away to superfluous back stories of the principal characters – Kaushik and his wife Ananya (Tina Desai), privileged trainee doctor Diya Parekh, ward boy Samarth (Pushkraj Chirputkar) with a gambling problem, social services director Chitra Das (Konkona Sen Sharma) haunted by an abusive marriage.
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.
There are bound to be some blemishes, such as the three over-the-top actors male characters who wear bigotry on their sleeves, the manicured nails on the trainee doctor that don’t chip even after 24 harrowing hours, the Punjabi-speaking grandmother, and a speech on tolerance and characters set up for a clash of faiths.
In the face of horror and terror, the doctor is still bound by the Hippocratic oath. When faced with a moral dilemma, Kaushik says, “We’re doctors sir. We care for the human body. Judging the human character is not our job.” It is the exploration of the medical professional’s priorities on one hand and moral ambiguities on the other as well as the detailing of medical practices and the frenzy of the Emergency Room that gives this part-fact, part-fictional story manifest poignancy.
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