A disgraced television anchor gets a phone call that will either resurrect his career or smash it to bits. Literally so: the angry voice on the line has just blown up Mumbai’s vital sea-link bridge during a live broadcast and is threatening to cause further mayhem if his demands aren’t met.
This parable about corruption and apathy is a remake of Kim Byung-woo’s The Terror Live (2013). Ram Madhvani’s Dhamaka replicates the beats and twists of the South Korean film, but with one crucial difference. In the provocative source material, the fish has rotted at the head. Dhamaka, which is out on Netflix, tamely settles for the tail.
The Terror Live dexterously combines elements from the vigilante thriller, the terrorism drama and reality television shows. The bomber demands an apology from the South Korean president in exchange for surrender. The caller is seeking to redress his own grievance as well as seek justice for others like him – the labouring class routinely ignored by the power elite.
The Korean movie suggests that viewers don’t ask the questions that matter – how did the caller manage to set off the bombs, and just what are the police up to – and instead go along with the spectacle of a journalist hoisted on his own petard and a political leadership shamed for its apathy.
Dhamaka scales down any expectations that our own rulers might be held to account. We’re left with an suitably tense but predictable critique of the ruthless and exploitative news cycle and a gaping hole where the more incendiary message had been.
Kartik Aaryan is the anchor Arjun, who plays a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the bomber to resurrect his career and boost his network’s ratings. Egged on by his cynical boss Ankita (Amruta Subhash), Arjun keeps the caller on the line, only to watch on in horror as he pulls off one stunt after another. One of these involves Arjun’s ex-wife Saumya (Mrunal Thakur).
Counter-terrorism unit member Praveen (Vikas Kumar) walks into the studio to ease matters. Ankita fires away the instructions that make all the difference between an ordinary live broadcast and a blockbuster one. Raise the volume on the sad music! Capture the audience!
Some of the events beggar belief, which is par for the course in a movie whose premise is fantastical. That said, did Ankita just lay out her evil plan for television domination before Praveen, and did he walk away rather than arresting her?
The 104-minute minute film is packed with nervous energy, convincing visual effects and serviceable performances from the cast. Aaryan is cleverly cast as the smarmy and jaded journalist who is forced to find the spine that he didn’t know he still had. Despite going overboard in the crucial scenes, Aaryan makes the most of a largely unsympathetic character.