Mumbai Diaries 26/11: A visceral, emotional Indian medical drama for international audiences.
Mumbai Diaries 26/11 (Amazon Prime Video, 2021) is an Indian web series that is positioned to be a first-of-its-kind medical drama which both Indian and international audiences could watch and enjoy.
The premise is around the emotional, psychological and physiological experiences that the medical and frontline healthcare staff at a decrepit governmental hospital undergo when the Indian metropolis, Mumbai, is under siege from the terrorist attack.
The world over knows about this event as it was covered very widely and minutely by global news media. The show also has a subplot where we see how the Indian news media, in particular, obtained valuable but painful footage at the risk of their own lives.
Cast and Credits
- Main Cast: Mohit Raina, Konkona Sen Sharma, Tina Desai, Shreya Dhanwantary, Natasha Bharadwaj, Mrunmayee Deshpande, Satyajeet Dubey, Prakash Belawadi
- Director: Nikkhil Advani, Nikhil Gonsalves
- Cinematographer: Kaushal Shah
- Written By: Nikhil Gonsalves, Anushka Mehrotra, Yash Chhetija
- Dialogues: Sanyuktha Chawla Shaikh
- Languages: Hindi and English. Subtitles (in English) available.
- Casting: Kavish Sinha
- Genres: Medical drama
- Episodes: 8 (average duration 40-60 minutes)
- Producers: Monisha Advani, Madhu Bhojwani, Emmay Entertainment
- Digital Platform: Amazon Prime Video
Set in an emergency room of a decrepit state-run hospital in the Indian metropolis of Mumbai, this series captures the physical, logistical, emotional and psychological challenges faced by the doctors, nurses, support staff and frontline workers as they deal with the dreadfully deadly and devastating terrorist attacks that happened on 26th November 2008.
It also touches upon how the families and loved ones of the staff at this hospital faced this siege with an emotional realism that is bound to resonate with audiences poignantly.
Although the show is essentially a medical drama, it takes a broad look into the following themes as well:
- This web series makes good use of the creative freedom that comes with this content format and gives the audience an authentic flavour of what life in Mumbai is like, especially focusing on urbane lifestyles in the middle and upper classes of Indian society. For instance, the new batch of medical residents who joined the hospital on the day of the attacks were from contrasting financial and social backgrounds, but they all beautifully synchronised with each other when bedlam let loose with patients and casualties flooding in later that very same night.
- How the 26/11 attacks came about from the terrorists’ perspectives was also given some focus, which was insightful as well as somewhat understandable. It takes something traumatic or psychologically significant to happen to someone to resort to lashing out and killing innocent civilians. This was underscored throughout the show as the doctors strived to provide treatment to all the patients - regardless of their criminality or innocence.
- The audience also gets to understand the stresses, strains, constraints and restraints which doctors, nurses and frontline healthcare workers face on a day-to-day basis when working in hospitals that have limited finances and resources. There are also ego tussles between the doctors and senior non-medical management team which those of us working in the modern-day workplace can relate to.
- With high intensity from the start, the show doesn’t take much time in making the audience encounter a couple of pivotal questions: what do you do when you’re surrounded by death and destruction? What are your immediate reactions? What emotions do you go through at that specific point in time? The show was originally released towards the tail-end of the coronavirus pandemic making this really identifiable to audiences who have directly or indirectly experienced death and tragedy so up close recently.
- As the aforementioned themes reflect, the overriding theme of Mumbai Diaries 26/11 is to highlight just how humane the medical fraternity is. Their personal and even professional sacrifices are driven by their unshakeable dedication to patients as well as their unbreakable work ethic, often leading to broken marriages, unstable family life or even not being able to have any sort of personal or social life at all. The audience gets to witness really closely, sometimes too close for comfort, how doctors feel when they are unable to save patients — even when the doctors themselves are at gunpoint!
- In such intense moments of impending doom and gloom, our innermost fears, doubts, insecurities and concerns do bubble up but then pale into insignificance. When you’re encountering death in the face, all that matters at that particular moment, is redemption - or a chance at it- if anything.
The sets used for the hospital are actually so run-down that it begs us to think where does the money go when it comes to running these hospitals in real life? Having said that, this being an Indian show, you can’t be in an Indian setting and not experience thriving life vibrating everywhere. This hospital is no different. The passion of the staff is palpable, while the patients with their medical and psychological woes emotionally resonate.
In behind-the-scenes footage and promotional interviews, the main cast and crew describe the sheer detailing and logistical efforts that went to recreating the sights, sounds and surroundings of Mumbai back in 2008.
According to Nikhil Advani, one of the show’s directors, he wanted to get the city’s lighting captured as accurately as possible. Mumbai’s Marine Drive, the long stretch of road that coasts along the beaches and is always teeming with traffic, had different streetlights back in 2006, which were upgraded to a more ecologically efficient system soon after that year. In a bid to recreate the fateful night of the 26/11/2008 bombings to a level of realism that this horrific incident had blustered in, the production unit had sought the required permissions to switch off the current lighting system, replace it with the previous one (which meant sourcing the obsolete light bulbs, etc), shoot the scenes and then reinstate the current system.
In terms of the colourisation, according to insights revealed by the production unit (Emmay Entertainment) on their social media channels, a lot of attention was given to the technical application of cinematic colouring so as to set “the tone of grit, panic and tension surrounding the stories that unfolded in the show.” For instance, the first floor of the hospital had colder hues which was brought about by lighting the place with “colder” tube lights and “slightly colder walls.” The second floor had “a more warmer yellow feel to it” to help “distinguish the two atmospheres within the hospital and make the set look ten folds in size.”
The show, which is headed for a second season, has received much critical acclaim and accolades from the industry and audiences worldwide. The casting and characterisation is the basis for this success.
Mohit Raina is cast as the lead actor, who plays Dr Kaushik Oberoi, Head of Trauma Surgery at the hospital. Raina has delivered an impeccable performance as this intelligent, ethically passionate doctor who cares too much for his patients, then he seems to for his wife, Ananya, played by Tina Desai. Who does he attend to a patient on the brink of death on his operating table or his wife on the phone who’s managing an elite party of manic guests trapped in the hotel she works for? Raina’s expressions, dialogue delivery, physicality and overall demeanour is so authentic that he’s able to make the audience forget his star exterior and regard him to be Dr Oberoi. He shows a lot of promise in playing intellectually complex roles going forward. One of his most resonating dialogues in the show could well be applied to both dealing with illness as well as life issues in general.
“I always tell my patients: Show your illness what it’s worth. Show it that it cannot be bigger than you.” — Dr Kaushik Oberoi, played by Mohit Raina.
It’s worth pointing out that the rest of the cast delivered memorable, poignant performances too. Konkona Sen Sharma plays the character of a non-medical managerial role in the show who has her own personal demons that she’s battling with as she strongly deals with the challenges of her job. Shreya Dhanwantary, plays the relentless, intrepid television news reporter with much conviction and verve. New and younger talent — Satyajeet Dubey, Natasha Bhardwaj and Mrunmayee Deshpande — play the new medical residents with applaudable authenticity.
The supporting cast, who play the roles of nurses and frontline workers, have been selected with a lot of care because their performances add much flavour to the overall narrative flow.
With the digital streaming platforms currently bursting with refreshing, intellectually-provoking content, Mumbai Diaries 26/11 is one such show that invites audiences to regard the Indian entertainment scene with globalised wide lenses.
Season One is currently available on Amazon Prime Video. These views are my own and are not endorsements to the show or platform.