IIn a scene from Netflix’s Dhamaka, an anchor points out to his team “Blurb ka matlab hota hai daraana, dhamkana, rulana yaa phir tension dena”. It’s a subtle dig into the television news media in this country, which believes in annoying your audience by pushing them to an edge rather than pulling them into a sense of calm and understanding. It’s truly ironic that the make-believe world of movies has moved to a point of self-awareness where its conviction can punch a supposedly reality-centric form of media.
The Idiot Box has become vile and vengeful, but like Twitter’s caustic arguments, its absurd nature qualifies as entertainment. That’s kind of the point of Dhamaka, a feverish and thrilling ride that also scathingly criticizes media culture and its prowess in fabricating more truths than there are lies.
It’s truly ironic that the make-believe world of movies has moved to a point of self-awareness where its conviction can punch a supposedly reality-centric form of media.
Kartik Aaryan plays Arjun Pathak, a disgraced TV host who now hosts an audio podcast. He is called out on his podcast by a man claiming he is about to blow up the Mumbai sea link. Pathak’s denial and condescension is followed by the actual explosion. The threat is real and here really begins the story of two films, one happening and one that a team of cynically motivated TV reporters want to build. Aaryan’s chocolaty innocence gives way to a meaner and neglected Pathak who sees an opportunity in the face of the collective crisis. Sympathy is scarce here, as most of the characters we follow are opportunists, drawn to their role in the show rather than the implications of its many catastrophic eventualities. There are twists and turns to the rhythm of Pathak and his team’s frantic movements, and the world around them changes minute by minute.
Ram Madhvani, who gave us the wonderful Aarya rarely let the camera or the tension rest. The clock keeps ticking, even when it isn’t. Almost like a coup, some of the film’s most emotionally charged moments actually unfold on the TV screens in the frame. Almost as if Madhvani said the Idiot Box is capable, if he wasn’t so guilty of doing the exact opposite. Aaryan, in perhaps his best performance of an incredibly popular career, is supported by a surprisingly cold turn from the formidable Amruta Subhash. Sardonic and cold as the metal that the maritime bond must have erected on Subhash’s icy nonchalance in the face of the tragedy and surrounding chaos is absurdly touching. This is another narrative criticism of the media business which, while exaggerated at times, elicits both shock and disgust.
Almost as if Madhvani said the Idiot Box is capable, if he wasn’t so guilty of doing the exact opposite.
While Aaryan has managed to move beyond his romantic boy next door image to become a raw and ambitious new anchor, it’s really Madhvani’s direction that uplifts the film. Keeping the tension within the confines of an enclosed space is a feat, but still communicating a scale and narrative more sprawling than the instruments used – televisions, microphones, studio equipment – is a rare feat. The fact that Madhvani does not use the traditional technique of action and cut, makes itself felt for the first time in this spirited vehicle which is not quite devoid of soul and a philosophy that it wants clearly communicate.
As a resentful and opportunistic man, the film is as much about Pathak’s transformation as it is about the class lens through which we view citizenship. It’s political and yet, at the end of it all, through Pathak’s subsequent retreat to an edge he deemed beyond himself, the film makes an extremely intimate point about resentment and guilt. Of the state of this country, by the state of a man who embodies it best.
As a resentful and opportunistic man, the film is as much about Pathak’s transformation as it is about the class lens through which we view citizenship.
Dhamaka is of course both literal and metaphorical in the way it unfolds. Although this is a remake of the Korean movie Terror live, Madhvani adapts it perfectly to the socio-cultural environment of India. If you look beyond the logistics – the social perspective beyond the thriller – there is an almost serious critique of the country’s inequality, especially the myopia of its media which is more of a romantic tragedy than a thriller. action.
The language chosen may be that of chaos, explosions, shaking frames and claustrophobic rhythms, but the basis is that of gracious analysis, of populating the cacophony with the unacknowledged shock of having to continue, despite loss, suffering and the brutality of class distinctions. Aaryan may not always say or do the right things, but here is adequate as a reprehensible and yet ultimately humiliated Arjun. Counter-type throwing doesn’t always work, but in Madhvani’s esoteric hands, even the non-obvious choices seem plausible and delicious. For Dhamaka is not only about the explosion that occurs on a bridge, nor the immoral and bombastic choices, but the sudden change of heart and consciousness, which forces you to feel the pain that you subconsciously inflict on others.