It says something about TV journalism in our country that what unfolds before us in Dhamaka never appears as outlandish and preposterous as it should. The narrative is rife with quotable quotes. ‘Anchors are actors; actors need an audience, and the audience demands drama.’ And that is what TV news is all about. ‘We are not in the business of reporting news but selling them. First, the channel, then journalism.’ So anything goes in the name of news, as long as the ratings work their way up. ‘This isn’t the truth... No, but this is news.’ Take it or leave it. TV news is all about drama, highlighting the ‘sad/emotional/dramatic’ music at the right time and screaming your lungs out, ‘The nation wants to know.’
Arjun Pathak (Kartik Aaryan) has been a hotshot prime-time anchor with Bharosa TV. His wife Soumya (Mrunal Thakur) is a reporter in the same channel. But Arjun’s life – both personal and professional – is on skid row. Following some indiscretion on his part, he has now been demoted to a radio jockey (wonder what RJs would have to say about this!) who has such interesting topics of the day as ‘corporate houses tax rebates’ to discuss with listeners. His marriage is over, and the film begins with him holding his divorce papers.
Within minutes of the opening montage, Arjun gets a call from an anonymous caller threatening to blow up the Mumbai Sea Link. He rudely tells off the caller only to realise that the man means business as the first bomb goes off. Hearing the bang and watching the smoke billow in the distance outside his window, Arjun is quick to gather that here lies an opportunity to get back to prime-time and manipulates his unscrupulous boss, Ankita Malaskar (Amruta Subhash), who will do anything for ratings, to let him cover the breaking news.
But events soon careen out of control. The caller wants a prominent minister to offer a public apology on the channel for the death of three workers. And he has the technology rigged enough to have a bomb implanted in Arjun’s earpiece, which will go off if he so much as veers off the course the caller dictates. Before long, you have the smug anchor battling his ratings-hungry channel which wants to milk the proceedings, his propensity to further his own interests, a determined caller who will not settle for less than an apology from the minister who is always reported to be ‘on his way’ (a telling comment on our elected representatives who promise but never arrive) and his own conscience in late-awakening mode. To top it all, Soumya is on ground at the Sea Link to report on the developments and hence at risk.
It is a thrilling premise and all playing out within the confines of the newsroom. But the narrative never breaks out despite the film’s impeccable technical accomplishments, the cinematography, the sound design and the edit. A large part of the reason for that might just be the filmmakers’ propensity to spell everything out. There’s little by way of subtlety when it comes to this takedown of the ‘business’ of news, right from the channel being named Bharosa to its prime anchor spouting the catchphrase ‘Main jo bhi kahunga sach kahunga’ to the pungent dialogues that highlight a TV channel’s ‘ratings-over-everything-else’ philosophy. After a point, you just tune out.
ALSO READSpecial Ops 1.5 review: This Kay Kay Menon, Aftab Shivdasani-starrer streaming on Disney+ Hotstar is...
There are also awkward, incongruous bits like the anchor and his reporter-wife making up over veiled exchanges in the course of her reporting from the location. And despite Aaryan’s earnest act, somewhere down the line, it starts feeling like a performance, and the whole thing appears staged in a set. The filmmakers make all the right noises here, and it’s well-crafted all right, but little registers as organic beyond a point. From a lesser director, this would have been passable fare. From someone like Ram Madhvani, whose debut Let’s Talk plays out like a taut thriller around marital infidelity, Dhamaka is a bit of a letdown, never exploding into the thriller it intends to be.
CAST: Kartik Aaryan, Mrunal Thakur, Amruta Subhash, Vikas Kumar, Vishwajeet Pradhan
DIRECTOR: Ram Madhvani
Rating: 2 & 1/2 stars
(Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri is an award-winning publisher, editor and a film buff)
ALSO READSooryavanshi review: This Akshay Kumar-starrer is less fun and too preachy, making it a dull watch
(To receive our E-paper on whatsapp daily, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)