Disaster movies are filled with depictions of large-scale destruction– either natural or otherwise. Of late, filmmakers are resorting mostly to alien invasion stories, zombie attacks, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, or space catastrophes. Mumbai Diaries 26/11 is not a film but an eight-episode web series being streamed on Amazon Prime.

It marks a departure from the definition of “disaster movies” in the sense that it does not deal with zombie attacks or impact of natural calamities on people but explores the impact of the terrible terrorist attacks that shook the entire city of Mumbai on November 26, 2011.

A pre-credit disclaimer clearly states that this is an entirely fictionalised account of the 26/11 terrorist attacks across the city of Mumbai. Directors Nikhil Advani and Nikhil Gonsalves have very intelligently pitched the film on what impact these attacks had on the in-patients and the entire medical, paramedical and other staff of the Bombay General Hospital (name changed from the original Cama Hospital) when lay victims of the attack, including a nurse of the hospital itself, in different degrees of burns, injuries and gun-shot wounds, begin to arrive shaking the very foundations – infra-structural, personnel-wise, social and psychological of the hospital ambience completely.

The eight-episode series is almost entirely placed within the hospital and its immediate surroundings throwing up other sociological issues like caste and faith issues, family pressures, the police versus the doctors, internal politics between and among the hierarchy of the medicos in general and surgeons in particular, and specially, the unfeeling role of the media in this whole, tragic circus.

This can also be slotted as a medical thriller because it explores the entire psychology and pressure doctors are burdened with in such a situation, with their nerves on edge, some verging on a complete breakdown while a male nurse gone berserk when his wife, a nurse in the same hospital, dies of gunshot wounds and he bursts out with his anger against the minority community because the surgeon treating his wife happened to be Muslim. Even the names of each episode are placed within medical terms such as “Diagnosis”, “Complications”, “Malignant” and so on and each closes with a thrilling twist that forces you, rather, mesmerises you to remain glued to the next and you are reluctant to give up until you learn what happens in the end.

Though the bombing and shoot-out at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is referred to, the focus of the entire series is on Palace Hotel (changed from Taj Hotel) and authentic film and video clips of the terrible incident often cut into the narrative, functioning at the same time as a reminder and a dramatic strategy that lends authenticity to the story.

The main drama happens when two terrorists are taken by ambulance to the hospital, one critical and one slightly injured. The entire hospital turns itself upside down with the police grabbing the less hurt terrorist and beating him up black and blue and the doctors trying their best to save the critically injured terrorist. This is a fictional element introduced to add to the high-tension drama which enhances the intriguing and accelerating mystery of the terrible events that fill the screen, not to speak of the constant turbulence within the hospital mainly just before terrible things begin to happen.

The media is reduced to an inhuman conglomeration of unfeeling journalists specially from the electronic media of television where ‘hot news’ is more important than the tragedy that is happening to healthy, living human beings both within the medical fraternity and without it. There may be some truth in this presentation but the script takes it too far when it shows one journalist, Mansi (Shreya Dhanwantary) going to the extent of deliberately injuring herself to get admitted to the same hospital to grab her ‘headline’ story! What was the guarantee that she would be taken to the same hospital? Besides, at the end of all this, she gets a big promotion from the channel head! Another very forced scene is when one of the terrorists asks the closeted Chitra Das whether she has seen Shahrukh Khan’s house!

The young doctor Diya (Natasha Bharadwaj) secretly taking pills for her depression is the natural progression of her constantly being insulted by her famous father on the one hand and her desperate urgency to strip herself off the family appendage of her grandfather having been the founder of Bombay General Hospital, his bust stained with neglect.

The three sub-plots that narrate the back stories of the main surgeon Koushik Oberoi (Mohit Raina), the male nurse Samarth (Pushkraj Chirputkar) who wanders about the hospital trying to cope with his wife’s sudden death and the chief Social Director Chitra Das (Konkona Sen Sharma), each tinged with grey shades, add flesh and offer the right back story.

The three major merits of the series lie in – the brilliant performances of each and every actor with special underscoring of the performances of Mohit Raina who holds on to the character from beginning to end, Konkona Sen Sharma who can even bring a corpse to life with her act and the three young entrants into the field of surgery with their personal angsts all of who have done a wonderful job.

There is a bit of a melodrama in the character of Biji who has developed a bonding with Chitra Das introduced mainly to balance the Muslim-hating Samarth with her story of the help she got from both Hindus and Muslims when Sikhs, including her entire family except herself and her daughter, were slaughtered following Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984 by Hindu rightists and abracadabra, Samarth’s anger against the Ahaan (Satyajit Dubey), a Muslim, evaporates immediately.

The two policemen too, trapped in their own biases, have done a very convincing act. One electrically charged scene is when the police officer holds Oberoi at gunpoint to stop him from trying to treat the gun wounds on one of the terrorists. Oberoi refuses to bend and says, “we treat the injured and not the character” and goes on with his job. The story goes that the actors who did the medical staff’s roles had to go through a month or more of training not only to learn the medical terms that went along with the surgical methods but were also taught some actual medical methods such as suturing open wounds, bandaging cuts and so on.

The cinematography, the art direction, the music and the soundtrack are brilliant to say the least. The soundtrack is filled with sounds of gunshots, trolleys being pulled this way and that, ambulance sirens, shots being fired, glasses smashed to smithereens, desperate cries of the dying and the hurt, and the heated arguments between and among the medicos. The entire hospital set had to be deconstructed entirely to make the chaos created by the entry of the attacking terrorists into the hospital.

The cinematography sticks to shades of greys and blues but covers the night cityscape with its flickering lights dotted with the fire oozing out of the windows of the Palace Hotel drawn from real clips. The scenes shot inside the hotel sets are also done realistically.

The closing shot is wonderful. The terror has ended, the hospital is trying to get back on its feet and Oberoi shouts out to Cherian, the matron and the series ends on this note of coming back to normalcy.

There is no social message in this series. It builds up a story based on the 26/11 attacks, places it inside a very busy and rather disorganised hospital where the chief and the head surgeon are constantly at loggerheads and practically throws this into our mesmerised eyes. Good work, Advani, Gonsalves and team.