Adelaide becomes Mumbai for thriller

Armie Hammer, Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Dev Patel star in Hotel Mumbai.
Armie Hammer, Tilda Cobham-Hervey and Dev Patel star in Hotel Mumbai.

Almost a decade ago, Australian film producer Gary Hamilton and his movie executive wife Ying Li were in Thailand and about to fly to Mumbai, India, and stay in the elegant Taj Mahal Palace Hotel.

They received what they thought was bad news.

Mass demonstrations had flared across Thailand, Bangkok's airports were shut down and they wouldn't be able to fly to Mumbai to attend a film festival.

They were stranded in Bangkok. Soon after, news reports filled the TV in their hotel room.

Terrorists had launched attacks across Mumbai and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel became the final battleground during four days of bloodshed in November 2008 that left 164 people dead and 308 injured.

If the airport hadn't been shut down in Bangkok, Hamilton and his wife would have been staying in the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel on the day of the attacks.

"It has haunted my wife and I," Hamilton, from his Los Angeles office, told AAP in a recent interview.

"Because of the shutdown of Thailand in terms of not being able to exit we were saved from not having to go to the hotel."

It had such an impact on Hamilton he began to delve into human stories behind the violence in Mumbai.

He joined up with screenwriter John Collee and writer-director Anthony Maras and the result was Hotel Mumbai starring Armie Hammer, Dev Patel, Nazanin Boniadi, Jason Isaacs and Tilda Cobham-Hervey.

The film received a standing ovation at its world premiere at the recent Toronto International Film Festival and had its Australian premiere this week at the Adelaide Film Festival.

Hamilton's film sales company, Arclight Films, handled the international licensing and has closed distribution deals worldwide to ensure a global audience for a film with a relatively small $A25 million budget.

The secret to making such a high-quality, heart-wrenching thriller on a tiny budget was the film's main shoot location: Adelaide.

"I don't think there are two more different cities in the world than Adelaide and Mumbai," Hamilton said.

Most of the interior scenes were shot in Adelaide, while exterior shots in Mumbai.

Funnily enough, it was the grand South Australian Film Corporation building, with its almost identical architecture, that was used to replicate the inside of the Taj Mahal hotel.

The film focuses on the brave employees of the hotel who, instead of fleeing, stayed on the premises to help during the carnage.

"My wife had seen rough cuts of the film and then finally in Toronto she saw the film with an audience for the first time and I don't think she could talk for five minutes after because it brought back to her what we could have actually experienced," Hamilton said.

"She just literally couldn't talk for five minutes."

Hotel Mumbai is scheduled to open in Australian cinemas in January.

Australian Associated Press