State of Siege: 26/11 on Zee5 is an exhaustive recreation and reimagining of the attacks on Mumbai in November 2008. Created by Abhimanyu Singh and directed by Matthew Leutwyler, the eight-part web series systematically sets up the key players in this life-changing and horrific event: the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists at the attack sites, the handlers in Lahore, the victims, the police on the ground and in the control rooms, the National Security Guard commandos prepping and strategising for the final encounter, and the media that breathlessly chased breaking news.
Unlike Anthony Maras’s recent released film Hotel Mumbai, which focused on the attack on and rescue of hostages from the Taj Mahal hotel, the series includes Chabad House and Cama and Albless Hospital while touching on the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station and Leopold Cafe.
State of Siege is less about the victims and their trauma and more about the men with the guns and power. Writer Joshua Caldwell’s screenplay is based on Black Tornado: The Three Sieges of Mumbai 26/11 by Sandeep Unnithan. Rajesh Beri’s dialogue moves between English, Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and Hebrew. Kartik Shah’s music provides the beats for the suspense to this harrowing ordeal that ended on November 28.
Colonel Sahota (Arjan Bajwa) is mobilising his NSG squad to fly down to Mumbai, but they are delayed by ministerial whims. Major Manikrishnan (Arjun Bijlani), who appears to have anger management issues, insists on joining the mission. The show also emphasises the mismatch between the heavily armed terrorists and the underprepared Mumbai police.
Mukul Dev does a fine job as the Lashkar-e-Taiba handler, as does Arjan Bajwa as Colonel Sahota. One of the show’s strengths is that rather than revolve around one heroic figure, it gives weightage to all those who fearlessly played their parts.
Criticism is aimed at the system and its preparedness, as well as the media. The newsroom politics at a channel called INN, played out through an ambitious newbie and a ratings-hungry anchor, especially ring true.
The focus is largely on the cruelty, brutality and coldblooded killings. While the action scenes are tightly choreographed and executed, some of the non-dramatic scenes contain whiffs of amateurishness. When a security guard at the Taj hotel, says, “Oh no! Short circuit,” he may as well have been ordering half a kilo of potatoes.
The production values are often compromised – for example, the interiors of the hotel do not stay authentic to the real Taj, and you can spot a fake number plate stuck on the police patrol jeep. The story of Ajmal Kasab, the only terrorist caught alive, bookends the series. Just when you think the siege has been lifted, an episode is entirely and excessively dedicated to Kasab’s family life, induction and indoctrination.