Had you been to India before or
did you follow the 26/11 attacks
like everyone else in the word?
I had been to India 25 years
ago to Delhi. It was a life-chang-ing experience for two reasons. I
was there to cover the international film festival for a magazine. And I was very young. I
decided on that trip that I would
try and spend time with people. I
knew little about Indian cinema.
I only knew Satyajit Ray.
And you use Ray’s music in your
film — the ending piece from
Yes. During the stay I met
Mani Kaul and G Aravindan. I
had very intense discussions with
them about cinema.
I visited the Taj Mahal in Agra.
I remember carrying a jacket
with me during the trip. Everyone was laughing at me in Paris
that I was bringing a tweed jacket to Delhi. But it was in January
and it was very cold. And I was
the only person in the delegation to have a
warm piece of clothing. On the day I left I
looked at my label and it read Taj Mahal
Tailors, Hong Kong.
You have bought it in Paris?
Yes. And Piyush Shah, who was Mani
Kaul’s DOP, said, ‘This is a sign. You will
return to India for a specific reason.’ I forgot
about that story completely.
When I heard about the Mumbai attacks I
was so shocked, I kept looking at the news
on television and reading about it. I was
struck by the fact that a country like India
should be hit by an attack of that level.
After that I met some friends at a dinner
party who told my about their niece who had
been trapped in the hotel during the attack.
She had managed to survive that experience.
I was struck by that story. I thought it was an
incredible story to tell to the world.
But I didn’t want to make the film about
the attacks. I wanted to make the film about
That’s what I wanted to ask you. There
were quite a few documentaries soon after
the attacks. But yours is first fictional story.
I hope people won’t be too disappointed,
because I think they might expect that the
film is about the attacks. It’s a film about
how the attacks affected someone who was
totally isolated during the experience and
she was unable to understand what was
going on around her.
So is this story very similar to the young
girl’s in the film?
It was faithful 85 percent of the time.
Because I actually interviewed a few couples who survived as they went through various rooms and floors of the hotel during the
attack. But your character only stays in the
room, which is even more frightening.
It is frightening. How did you perceive
Stacy Martin’s performance?
I thought she was very good. We feel the
fear by seeing her face. When the phone
rings and she is hiding next to the toilet. It
That was the idea. It’s not like she is going
all over the place or she is panicking.
Did you shoot the film inside the Taj Mahal
It was shot on a soundstage outside Paris.
The lobby of the Taj, the steps that come
down from Sea Lounge all of that was on
soundstage? It looked so real. You recreated
the whole thing? I was so convinced I was
inside the hotel.
Most of the money went into building the
set. We also did a lot of CGI extensions —
the corridors of the hotel. Almost two-third
of the budget went into the design.
Of course you did shoot some scenes on the
streets of Mumbai.
Yes. And we were allowed to shoot the
façade of the Taj hotel. We were allowed to
shoot for a whole day and we were able to
shoot at night the deserted Gateway of
India, looking at it from the hotel.
So you did take the camera inside the Taj?
No, we were on a crane right at the edge of
You did ask them to shoot the film inside,
Yes, and they didn’t let us shoot it there.
But you were able to bring your production
designer inside the hotel and take photo-
Yes, we went there for a few days. We
looked around and took notes. We tried to
think about how to recreate a similar space
on a soundstage in a different country. It
took three months to build it.
It was very impressive. I can understand
they would say no, because it is such a deli-
cate issue for the hotel. So, how many days
shoot did you do in India?
We were in India for a month and shot for
That’s where executive producer Guneet
Monga must have helped you…
Guneet was the key partner, because she
knew how to help us obtain all the permissions. And she helped us catch the delicate
moments of Mumbai city life.
Well, she used to be a line producer.
It is very complicated to shoot on the
Was shooting in India a good experience?
streets of Mumbai. And we worked with
extras in the Ballard Estate and Horniman
Circle. Parts of the Horniman Circle build-
ing looked like the Taj so we were able to
match all that and walk around it.
It was a great experience. Because India
has a strong film culture and that allowed
me to have very young and passionate part-
ners. They were extremely insightful and
The attacks on Mumbai are
such an important part of the
lives of the people of the city. The
extras you used were aware of the
film’s story line?
Oh they knew what we were
doing. They knew it was the first
film of its kind. We were eager to
be respectful of how this event
impacted India and how important it is in the recent history of
the country. It completely
changed the mood of the city. The
city was never the same after the
attack. It was scarred by the
You don’t mention at all the pol-
itics of attack.
No, because it is from the
young girl’s point of view.
I wonder how many of the audience remember the details.
Americans have a tendency to forget world politics very easily. How
many of them will remember who
the attackers were or that they
came from Pakistan or the India-
I think they know. I think the awareness of
global terrorism permeates everything that
is in the film. Maybe those who don’t know
about the tensions between India and
Pakistan will just think about the attack as
part of the global war on terrorism that we
are going through right now.
It’s true that the attackers came from
Pakistan and they were linked to one of the
major wings of Al Qaeda.
But your characters also don’t talk about
the politics of the attack. The girl at the end
only wants to connect with someone else who
has been through the same experience.
Well, she is shell-shocked since she has
gone through a war-like experience. And
her parents cannot fully empathize with her.
They were not in the hotel with her when the
Guneet just posted on Facebook a message
about this film. Not many people knew about
it. Was it a deliberate plan?
It was a deliberate plan because we wanted to be sure that these two festivals would
allow us to showcase it.
But was there also a concern about how
people in India might react to it?
I don’t know how they will react. Do you
think they will react to it harshly?
I don’t know about that. But I can tell it will
be difficult to get theatrical distribution in
India, because a lot of the film is in French
and foreign language films become an issue.
But maybe because I had followed the events
very closely as a journalist, I could feel the
tensions in the second half of the film.
This is what has disappointed me about
the negative reactions to the film. I tried to
be as accurate and realistic as possible, as
close as possible to this girl’s experience of
what she went through and what was happening in the surroundings and inside the
hotel. I read a lot of material and met a lot of
It is true that accuracy can sometimes be
unspectacular or different from what people
fantasize. But I wanted to be true to the story
and not exploit this girl’s situation. n
ENCOUNTER M4 THE MAGAZINE
India Abroad September 25, 2015
I TRIED TO BE AS
REALISTIC AS POSSIBLE,
AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE
TO THIS GIRL’S
EXPERIENCE OF WHAT
SHE WENT THROUGH
AND WHAT WAS
HAPPENING IN THE
INSIDE THE HOTEL… IT
IS TRUE THAT ACCURACY
CAN SOMETIMES BE
DIFFERENT FROM WHAT
PEOPLE FANTASIZE. BUT
I WANTED TO BE TRUE
TO THE STORY AND NOT
EXPLOIT THIS GIRL’S
From left, producer Patrick Sobelman, actress Stacy Martin, director Nicolas Saada and actresses Gina McKee and Alba Rohrwacher at the Taj Mahal premiere at the 72nd Venice Film Festival September 10.
IAN GAVAN/GE TT Y IMAGES