Ratings: 4 / 5
Hum doctors hai, hum human body ko dekhte hai, human character ko dekhna humara kam nahin,” says Dr Kaushik Oberoi (Mohit Raina) with a gun pointed at his forehead. On the other end of that pistol is ACP Mahesh Tawde (Sandesh Kulkarni). They’re both on the same side of this terror war waged over the city on the fateful night of November 26, 2008. They’re just caught at a moment when right and wrong is not simply black or white, it’s red, like the colour of blood that’s swatched across both these men’s uniforms.
The terror attacks that shook Mumbai and the nation on 26/11, has been revisited several times on celluloid. Retold from the perspective of the National Security Guard (NSG) commandos who fought and died, the staff and security personnel of The Taj Hotel, the Mumbai Police and the Anti-Terror Squad (ATS) who were the first responders to this unprecedented terrorist attack, interspersed with human stories of anguish, fear and grit. Perhaps for the first time, in Amazon Prime Video’s Mumbai Diaries: 26/11, will we see what happened inside a hospital – Bombay General Hospital (BGH) – on that fateful night. Starring Mohit Raina, Konkona Sensharma, Shreya Dhanwanthary, Satyajeet Dubey and Tina Desai in pivotal roles, Mumbai Diaries: 26/11 captures the scattered events of that night through these scattered perspectives, all coming together to form one whole story – of Mumbai rising from the ashes.
Mumbai Diaries: 26/11 keeps the skeleton of what happened that night intact, dramatises it and paints a ‘what if’ situation. The action in this eight-episode series is happening at the fictional Bombay General Hospital, based on the CAMA hospital. Starting with hoards of victims being rushed in with gunshot wounds and more serious injuries, to dead bodies piling up in the morgue. We are made aware that the 10 boys who floated onto Mumbai shores that evening have opened fire at two locations – Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus Railway Station (CSMT) and Café Leopold. The trauma centre, headed by Oberoi, fights this flood, as it fights its internal problems – the lack of adequate medical supplies, medicines, tracheostomy tubes, not enough Intensive Care Units (ICU), and whatnot. Three residents or ‘trainee doctors’ – Diya Parekh (Natasha Bharadwaj), Ahaan Mirza (Dubey) and Sujata Ajawale (Mrunmayee Deshpande) – are thrust into this on their very first day. It is mayhem from the very first episode, the kind that hooks you instantly. And never let’s go of that grip.
Nikkhil Advani, director, could very easily have gone wrong entirely with Mumbai Diaries: 26/11. The challenges before him were many. First, to ensure the medical thriller he promised remains thrilling until the very last episode, and how does one do that if he’s jam-packed so much in the very first? Second, to ensure the backstories he meticulously adds to each and every character doesn’t take away from the action, lest it gets too drab or melodramatic. To Nikkhil’s credit, these two aspects of the show simply complement each other, and since he has his finger firmly on the audience’s pulse, he knows exactly when to switch from the heart-pounding tension of a blood pressure monitor beeping down to zero to a flashback of why say Mirza chose to become a doctor in the first place. Do the deliberate backstories seem forced? Not really, for each is tied to a precise moment, a trigger happening in real-time. Did we want to see more of them? Perhaps yes, especially that of Chitra Das (Konkona Sensharma).
The casting of Mumbai Diaries is its biggest asset. Mohit as the star doctor who wants to make a difference even in the dilapidated building of BGH, fighting against all odds, is brilliant. He is calm but resolute, and we can see that in his eyes. Konkona, as a woman who has forever been told she ‘can’t’, finds purpose in fighting for the patients of BGH who have nobody to fight for them. Like we said earlier, her backstory was the most interesting one, and the least explored, yet she manages to show the audience the scars of her past trauma through her eyes and sometimes even through her jittery body, shaking in fear, anxiety.
Shreya Dhanwanthary, as Mansi Hirani, is a young news reporter chasing a story, not realising when she’s gone too far for that breaking news. And when she does, the gradual change in her demeanour is to watch out for. Prakash Belawadi as the dean of BGH, Dr Mani Subramanium, entrusted to run this ‘pagalkhana’ as a character describes it in one scene, is simply a quiet man caught between protocol and what is the need of the hour. He, too, reaches his breaking point when he yells ‘koi nahin aa raha madat karne’, adding that this is his hospital and every life under that roof is his responsibility.
Tina Desai as Ananya Ghosh, security personnel at The Palace Hotel (dramatised and name changed), too is responsible for her guests. She needs to evacuate them. Even as fear grips her and her throat closes down, she must do her job. Tina, however, was the weakest of the lot. Satyajeet Dubey as Ahaan Mirza faces his own set of challenges – saving the lives of his patients and knowing he can’t save them all, and being told ‘tum jaise log sirf marna jante hai’.
Aside from a few scattered moments where the makers try to jam in talks on patriarchy vs women empowerment, Hindu vs Muslim, and a flashback of the Sikh Riots of 1984 to prove that terror has no religion, Nikkhil holds on tight to the thread he started with – the human and humane side to et al. He even waits for the penultimate episode to humanise one of the terrorists – with a Shah Rukh Khan song, Agar Tum Kaho (Yes Boss) – to subtly introduce the idea that fanaticism isn’t something we’re born with. Some of us just lose our way somewhere.
At one point, the audience is faced with a dilemma that several characters on the show face – which life should a doctor save? Whose life is more important? In Nikkhil’s world, Dr Oberoi has no qualms admitting ‘every life’. That’s it.
Mumbai Diaries, however, is grim, mostly because we know exactly how things panned out in real life. So why should one subject themselves to this, isn’t the surrounding situation grim enough? If there’s something India has learned in the last two years it battled the novel coronavirus, is that medical professionals, doctors and healthcare workers are the heroes who wear labcoats. Watch Mumbai Diaries: 26/11 as an ode to them.