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One Less God

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In 2008, Mumbai was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks that lasted four days. The acts of violence received condemnation around the world and have been compared to the September 11 terrorist attack in New York. Ten years later, 2018 sees a handful of documentaries and feature films being released to honour/commiserate the anniversary. One of these explorations is One Less God, by filmmaker Lliam Worthington.

In a similar fashion to last year’s Patriot Day, which saw Mark Wahlberg playing a fictional cop witnessing and investigating the Boston Bombing, Worthington follows a group of fictional or composite characters holed up in the hotel Taj Palace and Tower. The hotel was one of several sites during the Mumbai attacks and Worthington, after several years of research, tries to visualise the nightmares that happened in there.

His anchor is Sean (Joseph Mahler Taylor), a tourist who unwittingly becomes the leader of a group of guests, including Turkish siblings Eda (Reilly O’Byrne-Inglis) and Selim (Igor Kreyman), businessman Yang (Quentin Yung) and born-again spiritualist John (Joseph Taylor). Elsewhere, a grandfather (Sukhraj Deepak) shelters his granddaughter from the violence outside their hotel room, with games of make believe and tea parties. Worthington plays the long game, building up the backstory of his characters, so when the horror finally does begin, the violence inflicted on them means something.

What might make some raise an eyebrow or two is how Worthington tackles those involved in the attacks: the terrorists themselves. Using dialogue ripped straight from the actual transcripts of the terrorists’ communication, Worthington sets up our eyes on the inside with Yaaseen (Kabir Singh) and Ahmad (Kieran Kumar), two young men being offered the key to the kingdom of heaven by an unseen man (Philip John), who barks out orders and poisons them with promises.

With the exception of this hidden handler, Worthington adds a depth of humanity to their actions. He by no means excuses what they did, but he clearly wants to try and understand them; to make them human. In fact, a scene where one of them tries to speak to their commander during bouts of diarrhoea, whilst the other plays in front of a giant mirrored wall almost leans towards the British black comedy, Four Lions, in terms of absurdity.

However, Worthington doesn’t want to dull the threat – as later violence will show – but he does appear to want to direct the conversation from the kind of one-dimensional Islamic Terrorists that frequented many an episode of 24, etc.

Admittedly, there is the thought that Worthington is trying to do too much. Wanting to provide insight into both sides of the conflict – and between three groups of people no less – means it can feel like he’s piled his plate too high. More engaging are the moments of humanity that echo through the film. In particular, the Life is Beautiful moment which sees a grandfather pretending the gun fire his granddaughter can hear is nothing but fireworks; teasing her because she can’t see their beautiful colours.

The film’s final humanist message may seem trite to some, particularly after the provocative action that’s on display. However, Worthington’s intentions are clear and having dragged his audience through the mire, it’s apparent he wants us to take a good long look at where we’ve come a decade after the dust has settled. You can’t fault him for that.

Special Q&A screenings have been confirmed for One Less God at the following: Sunday 21 October, Q&A Red Carpet, Event Cinemas, Tuggerah; Tuesday 23 October, Sydney Red Carpet, Hoyts, Entertainment Quarter; Wednesday 24 October, Q&A, Event Cinemas, Parramatta; Friday 26 October, Q&A, Avoca Beach Picture Theatre; Saturday 27 October, Q&A, Real Film Festival, Newcastle; Monday 29 October, Q&A, Avoca Beach Picture Theatre; Sunday 18 November, Q&A, Avoca Beach Picture Theatre