Breaking news- these two words are a statement in itself that instantly catches the desired attention. People are presumed to be always hungry for news and to feed on that hunger, news channels grow an insatiable greed to break news first for higher and higher ratings- ethics and truth be damned- making the game a dirty play.
Trending no. 1 on Netflix Pakistan, Ram Madhvani’s Dhamaka, an official remake of a Korean film The Terror Live, revolves around similar ideas and situations. The film paints an unflattering image of news channels. It lays out the familiar ‘troupe’ of people, the ordinary lives devoid of social and financial clout, ironically believing in news anchors as oracles, completely unaware of the on-demand peddling sensation. “We don’t report the news. We sell it.” This one-liner defines the premise of the hostage thriller.
The storyline follows a day in the life of a reluctant radio jockey, Arjun Pathak, played by Kartik Aryan. A few minutes into the film, he gets a phone call by a bomber, masquerading as a victim of the inflation ridden corrupt government system, wanting to be heard. The tension rises as the man who calls in, claims that he will blow up the Mumbai Sea Link. Pathak mistakes him as a prankster and ends the call enraging him to trigger the bomb off. A loud bang is heard outside the window of his workspace, the ground shaking as he spots parts of the landmark bridge collapsing into the sea.
It’s important to note that Pathak was recently demoted from his prime time news anchor job to a radio jockey. After a moment of panic, the disgraced TV anchor who wants his prime time spot back, fuels himself to turn his traumatic experience into a comeback opportunity by treating the bomber’s call like an exclusive. The caller wants one thing- a public apology from a powerful politician for an incident that led to the death of three people.
The conflict then becomes a reporter chasing his prime time slot, claiming that he will parlay only the truth and nothing but the truth, and a desperate but enraged blood-thirsty caller who wishes to be heard and served justice. Both slaves of the accused system, dispensable and worthless, but the realisation comes way later.
“Remember, channel first. Journalism second,” said Pathak’s boss upon running the exclusive and stays true to her word when she disposes Pathak off protecting her channel. Amruta Subhash plays the corporate-minded, hard-edged TV channel head like a boss, giving orders to continue transmission despite threats to everyone’s life. She paints the ugly side of journalism by displaying a fascinating mix of over the top performance and underplaying the character where needed.
As a whole, Dhamaka revolves around a thrilling and very relevant story that loses impact too soon. The tension initially rises off organically, with each character performing well in their respective roles, but soon you realise that the thrill fades unpleasantly. The Netflix thriller slowly starts to feel improbable and contrived with mere outlines of characters acting out set pieces.
A terrorism call, five bomb blasts, a blow-up on-screen, blood seeping out of ears, television rivals digging dirt to destroy careers, lives hanging by a thread, including of those present in the channel building- are all highly dramatic situations that warrant a news floor buzzing with veracity functioning on the urgency of the situation, with terror and fear plastered on each face. The film lacked all of this and the ‘drama’ the audience needs to not just enjoy this, but any film.
Growing up in an era where bomb blasts and target killings were once if not daily then weekly news, even the worst Pakistani TV channels with their loud guests and venomous debates held more drama than this fictional channel. Somehow, it felt either too exaggerated, or too bland, with rare glimpses of the real tension that runs through the place like electricity when news is breaking, and everyone is focused insanely on the next day’s edition or the next bulletin.
The film was reportedly made in eleven days, and that could be a major reason for its rushed unreal vibe. If given more time, the characters had the potential to work the thrill up. It’s hard to believe that this came from Ram Madhvani, whose Neerja, another hostage thriller, worked so well with creating believable characters while inducing terror. He must be praised for making some bold casting choices here, especially with the lead, Kartik Aaryan. The Sonu Ki Titu Ki Sweety star is known for his iconic monologues and rom-com roles. However, a little disappointing, it was a risk worth taking. This role unleashed his vulnerabilities as an actor, showcasing an unseen emotive palate.
However, as great, the storyline could be, and that too borrowed, the underwhelming film passes for a one-time watch to witness Kartik’s new portrayal, despite the flawed execution.
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