NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Kat
The film opens in Mumbai, India on November 26th, 2008. A group of young men arrives on a small inflatable raft. Each of them carries a huge backpack and a cellphone with an earpiece. The leader of the group, known as “Brother Bull” gives the men instructions. They break off into pairs and get into a taxi, giving different destinations such as the Victoria Terminus, the Leopold Cafe, and the Taj Mahal Palace hotel.
In a nearby village, Arjun (Dev Patel) kisses his pregnant wife and small daughter goodbye as he leaves for work at the Taj. In his haste, he forgets one of his shoes. At the Taj, the staff prepares rooms and welcome guests from all over the world. Among them is Iranian-British heiress Zahra (Nazanin Boniadi), her American husband David (Armie Hammer), their infant son Cameron and his nanny (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). In the kitchen, head chef Hemant Oberoi inspects the wait staff. He notices Arjun in sandals and tries to send him home, but after some convincing, he sends him upstairs to get an extra pair of shoes in his office. On the tv monitor, a breaking news bulletin plays about an attack at the Victoria Terminus. The two terrorists hijack a police car and continue their spree.
Zahra and David eat dinner in the hotel’s restaurant while Sally stays upstairs to wait for a doctor because Cameron feels slightly warm. Oberoi tells the staff to treat the couple like royalty, as well as another guest Vasili (Jason Isaacs). The Russian businessman requests a special cognac, so one of the waiters Sanjay (Gaurav Paswala) goes out to buy some. As he walks to the store, he almost hit by the taxi carrying two of the terrorists. He starts arguing with the driver as the two men leave the car.
Inside the Leopold Cafe, tourist Eddie (Angus McLaren) and his girlfriend Bree (Natasha Liu Bordizzo) watch the exchange with mild amusement. They decide to head the Taj next, so they begin to pay for their meal. The waiter is suddenly shot, and a grenade is thrown into the cafe. The two men enter and begin coldly shooting people. Eddie and Bree escape and run down the streets with a huge group of people.
News of the attacks is starting to reach the hotel. The staff is worried but try to remain calm in front of the guests. The group runs to the Taj and begs for sanctuary. Hotel Manager Dilip (Vipin Sharma) opens the doors, and the people rush inside. Among them are four of the terrorists (Imran, Abdullah, Houssam, Rashid). They immediately pull out guns and start massacring everyone in sight. Bree and Eddie are separated during the melee, with Bree seemingly killed when she tries to run for the exit.
Arjun witnesses the carnage from the restaurant and orders the guests to hide under the tables and the staff to switch off the lights and lock the doors. David tries to call Sally, but she’s in the shower and doesn’t hear the phone ring. Two receptionists that are hiding under the desk, manage to call the police and warn a few guests to stay in their rooms. Once the main lobby is quiet, Brother Bull orders Imran and Rashid to begin phase two; head upstairs and execute anyone in sight.
Sally finally answers her phone just as there is knocking at the door. David warns her that there are shooters in the hotel just as a woman covered in blood runs into the room, followed by the sound of gunshots. Sally grabs Cameron and hides in the bathroom closet while the woman hides in the bathroom. The two men enter the suite and kill the woman. Sally desperately tries to quiet Cameron who is starting to fuss. They manage to remain undetected, and the men leave.
Sally quickly runs into the shower, and she and the baby cry together. She calls Zahra back. David decides to sneak upstairs and get to them. He hides in the elevator behind a room service cart, and after a close call with the two terrorists, he successfully makes it to the room. Eddie jumps from the 2nd-floor window and injuries himself. As he’s carried away, he begs for someone to save Bree, who’s still inside.
Outside the hotel, the attacks are continuing at an alarming speed. The local police aren’t properly trained or equipped to handle an attack of this scale. Their only option is to wait for the special forces from New Delhi, who are about 800 miles away. Arjun’s wife watches the news horrified. Despite being severely outmanned and unprepared, the police chief and few officers decide to enter the hotel in the hopes of reaching the CCTV room so they can track the terrorists’ movements.
Since the guests’ can’t leave through the emergency exit, Oberoi decides to move the guests trapped in the restaurant up to the Chambers Lounge, where they can hopefully hide. He gives the kitchen staff the opportunity to leave now, and while a few do, the majority decides to stay behind and help; the Taj is their home. Arjun successfully leads the guests the Lounge through the service hallway (which is hidden in the walls). Zahra texts David where they are going and asks him to meet them there.
The police group enters through the main lobby. One of the terrorists throws a grenade, killing three of the officers and deafening another. The two flee into a stairwell. David, Sally, and Cameron leave the room and slowly try to reach the Lounge. Downstairs, the terrorists find the two receptionists are ordered them to call the people trapped in their rooms. When they refuse, they are shot. In the Lounge, a woman overhears Zahra speaking to her mother on the phone in Arabic and accuses her of being one of the terrorists. Vasili tells her to fuck off. The same woman later complains about Arjun’s turban (pagri) and beard. Arjun calmly explains to her that his turban is a symbol of his courage but he’s willing to take it off it bothers her. The woman apologizes.
A stewardess enters the Lounge with a few more guests. Among them is a severely wounded Bree. Realizing she needs immediate medical attention, Arjun offers to bring her outside through the back stairway. He uses his pagri to help stop the bleeding. They are met by the two policemen on the stairwell and in confusion, Bree runs through the door and is killed by Imran. Brother Bull gives him orders to start gathering hostages, particularly important looking people. David and Sally reach the sixth floor only to be confronted by Imran. David manages to shove Sally and Cameron inside a utility closet before he is taken, hostage. With no inside handle and her phone dead, she is trapped.
Arjun leads the police into the CCTV room and sees many of his employees, including Sanjay, dead. Abdullah uses one of the dead officer’s badges to try and gain access to the Lounge. Just as Oberoi is about to open the door, Arjun calls and warns him. Hearing noises inside, Abdullah starts shooting at the door. The guests and staff are ushered into the back room. The police order Arjun to stay put and attack the terrorists, successfully wounding Imran before being driven off. Upstairs with David and the hostages, Imran calls his father and tearfully tells him that he loves him.
After six hours, Zahra decides to leave the Lounge with Vasili and a few other guests, despite Oberoi’s warnings. As they enter the lobby, the guests are killed while Vasili and Zahra are taken, hostage. It is now morning, and the special forces have begun to arrive. Abdullah searches through Vasili’s pockets and discovers that he is an ex-Spetznaz operative.
The two terrorists who hijacked the police car are caught; one is killed, and the other is taken into custody. Brother Bull orders the group to begin their final phase: burn down the hotel. They leave Imran with the hostages. David manages to loosen his wrists and tries to attack him but is shot in the shoulder. Arjun decides to leave the CCTV to help more guests get to the Lounge. One of the guests hears Cameron crying and lets Sally out of the closet.
Oberoi announces that they are going to leave through the back entrance as quickly as they can. A guest who has been on the phone with a reporter reveals where they are hiding, and this information is broadcasted on TV. Brother Bull warns the terrorists that the guests are escaping. Imran is told to execute the hostages since none of them are important enough. He shoots an American couple, David and Vasili, who tries to fight back. Zara tearfully begins reciting Salah (a Muslim prayer). Imran is unable to shoot another Muslim and spares her.
The terrorists break down the Lounge doors and give chase through the stairwell, shooting a few guests and staff. As they reach the kitchen, the special forces finally enter the hotel and return fire. Arjun runs outside and tearfully embraces Oberoi as their nightmare seemingly comes to an end. Upstairs, Zahra finds the closet that Sally was hiding in. She manages to break the window and scream for help. The terrorists are eventually cornered and killed. Zahra is evacuated and reunites with Sally and Cameron (Zahra’s infant son). Arjun returns home and reunites with his own family.
The closing text reveals that after three days, the police caught and killed 11 of the 12 terrorists. The mastermind of the plan remains at large to this day. Of the 31 people killed at the Taj, half were staff that stayed behind to help the guests. On December 21st, 2008, the Taj was reopened and with Hermant Oberoi’s help, restored to its former glory. To this day, some of the employees that work at the Taj are survivors of the attack.