On the first anniversary of the three-day siege in Mumbai, in which terrorists held people hostage in the Taj Mahal and Trident-Oberoi hotels and left 172 people dead, PBS’s ‘Secrets of the Dead’ strand is taking a look at what happened inside the hotels with Mumbai Massacre. Jared Lipworth, executive producer for THIRTEEN, takes realscreen through the project, and how this unique doc commemorates the first anniversary of these terrorist attacks.
Last November 10, gunmen from the Jihadist group Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked people in Mumbai’s Victoria Station and Leopold Café with a spray of bullets. At the same time the Taj Mahal, Oberoi Hotel and Jewish community center Nariman House were under siege by gunmen. CNN and news outlets across the globe documented the destruction, but horrified viewers mostly saw everything from the outside. Broadcast a year to the day of the attacks, Mumbai Massacre from Furnace, Electric Pictures and THIRTEEN goes inside the hotels with closed circuit footage, audio recordings, dramatic recreations and interviews from survivors to piece together what it felt like to experience the siege.
The project came together when Phil Craig from Furnace approached THIRTEEN’s Lipworth to tackle the tragic story. Lipworth remembers watching the news footage last year as the attack was happening and wondered when he’d begin to hear pitches for the ‘Secrets of the Dead’ strand. Shortly after that, Craig pitched Lipworth the documentary. ‘They had a really interesting angle and some good ideas for what the film should be and that worked really well within ‘Secrets of the Dead.’ We jumped on it pretty quickly,’ says Lipworth.
The film, directed by Victoria Pitt, approached the horrific story by delving into the personal stories of the people caught up in the attack and how they dealt with being in a crisis.
While another documentary on HBO will also examine the Mumbai attacks, Lipworth says that Mumbai Massacre is unique in that it is tightly focused on the siege victims and examines the importance of current communication technologies used within the context of the attacks.
‘Things like BlackBerries, iPhones and cell phones became a lifeline to people who were trapped within these buildings. That’s how they were getting their information,’ he says. ‘On the other hand, the terrorists’ handlers back in Pakistan were watching the news and calling the terrorists on the ground in Mumbai saying, ‘Go to the 19th floor, there are people there. Go to the chambers, there are people there.’ That’s a new dynamic and one that we felt would be very interesting to look at.’
The documentary uses multiple components to tell the story, with CCTV footage, audio of the terrorists’ phone calls with each other, and intentionally hazy-looking recreations that give a sense of the nightmarish scenarios that the victims underwent. ‘It was a challenge to create clarity out of confusion because the confusion is what was interesting,’ says Lipworth. ‘Because we were telling the film from the perspective of these victims, they didn’t have that much knowledge [at the time]. It’s [about] finding the balance between giving the viewers enough to know what was going on but staying true to the vision of telling their stories.’
Lipworth feels that Mumbai Massacre is a powerful film that gives viewers the insight into how people react in a crisis but that also gave the survivors a cathartic way to deal with their traumatic experience. ‘It’s a little bit outside of the ‘Secrets of the Dead’ model and I think it’s one that the viewers are going to get a lot out of if they come to it.’
Mumbai Massacre airs on PBS on November 25 and was made in association with Screen Australia, ScreenWest Inc, Channel 4, History UK and the Australian Broadcasting Company.