Dhamaka Movie Review: A thriller undone by excess
Ram Madhvani’s film, starring Kartik Aaryan as a news anchor, is as overblown as its subject
Thrillers disappoint. They disappoint because we’re expected to take them on trust. A news anchor, recently demoted, hosts a popular radio show. His wife is a reporter at the same company. She is out on assignment, on a bridge visible from his window. A bomb goes off there (and several smaller ones in the studio). It all ties in neatly. Then something happens and the logic slides, the film dwindling from convincing to convenient.
Cast: Kartik Aaryan, Amruta Subhash, Mrunal Thakur, Vikas Kumar
Director: Ram Madhvani
Streaming on: Netflix
Arjun Pathak (Kartik Aaryan) gets the call of his life. A troubled but determined voice informs him, rather frankly, that he’ll blow up the Mumbai sea link. Arjun ignores the threat, then hears loud rumbles outside. He did it! Perturbed — or unperturbed — Arjun seizes the opportunity. He’ll leverage the exclusive to fix up his life (or at least not get divorced). His former boss, Ankita (Amruta Subhash), cuts him a deal: Get the lone anarchist on air, take your old prime-time slot back. Simple. Conditions apply.
Ankita, who from the beginning starts playing Arjun like a fiddle, is the best thing in Ram Madhvani’s Dhamaka. Cold and unscrupulous, she raids the small radio office and turns it into a PCR. It’s fun to see two ex-colleagues—who clearly detest each other but also make a good team—smoke cigarettes and trade hokey catchphrases. Arjun offers words like ‘deshbhakti’ and ‘hriday parivartan’. “Sounds good,” grins Ankita. “Can you do it?” One is reminded of Faye Dunaway’s icy producer in Network (1976), one of the best media satires ever made. Dhamaka, by comparison, is a modest attempt. Ram points at a bullish news culture—the director, for many years, has worked in advertising—but does not dig too deep. Even the channel’s name (TRTV) seems to be missing a ’P’.
This is an almost scene-for-scene remake of the South Korean thriller, The Terror Live. That film, from 2013, is frantic without being hysterical. It has a moderate background score, something Dhamaka seems allergic to. Ram, usually a cool, focused director, cranks up the excess in the second half. Several more bombs go off. Children hang weepily from the bridge. We’re shown these images on TV, a rule the film occasionally breaks for sweeping aerial shots of the city. The indoor drama is tight, though, but I missed the choked-up feeling of Neerja (2016), also directed by Ram and set in a contained environment.
Kartik played an equally nervy protagonist in Love Aaj Kal (2020). This time, in a thriller, the meltdowns feel more real. At the studio, Arjun mediates between a government official and the caller; he freaks out throughout: a funny, yet scary, portrait of an anchor on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Kartik is effective and enjoyable in the role. That said, there are moments that seem ripe for showboating. Arjun, facing a threat, shifts, and squirms in his chair. He pleads with his boss, who is unmoved. Amruta’s stance is all counterpoint, even less sympathetic than the police officer’s who has just come in.
Dhamaka toys with the idea that news-making is steeped in drama. “An anchor wants an audience, and audiences want drama,” Arjun says. But the film, as a work of fiction, could have sold this point better by avoiding the manipulations it is seeking to spurn. It never does. Instead, we get Prateek Kuhad on the soundtrack; a tugging-at-heartstrings flashback in the climax. Ankita tells someone to step up the ‘emotional music’. A few scenes later, the film has gone up that road. It’s funny to see Bollywood get a chance to talk somebody down, and blow it spectacularly.