Dhamaka, streaming on Netflix from November 19, was one of the first Hindi films to go on floors during the pandemic. Forming a bio-bubble with the cast and crew, the film was completed in 10 days. Ahead of the film’s release, director Ram Madhvani and lead actor Kartik Aaryan talk about the challenge of telling a message through a grey protagonist, planning and executing a film at the peak of a pandemic and shooting it in Madhvani’s trademark style.
Anupama Chopra: Kartik, the last time we talked, I had asked you why do you think people love you so much? And you said, “It’s probably my relatability.” Arjun Pathak is relatable to an extent but he is not a nice guy. He’s not a likeable person. He does some pretty bad things. Was that a concern for you?
Kartik Aaryan: I love that part about him. There is a relatability factor about him. He is spoilt for choices: either he will go for option A or option B, you don’t know that. Throughout the course of the film, I was amazed by how this character is not vanilla. He is not a sweet, innocent guy; he has grey shades. But he also talks of a larger picture, which is also somewhere the thought of the film: kya khoya, kya paaya itni bhaag daud ke baad? (What did you gain, what did you lose, after running around for so long?). The brilliance of it was that you were showing this through a grey character. I found it interesting for myself too, to play a character like that. It attracted me a lot.
Ram Madhvani: Here is a character who compromises on his principles in trying to get ahead. And while he is trying to get ahead, you should be saying “I don’t like him”, but you end up saying “Poor guy.” You sympathize. And I think that comes from the fact that he is likeable.
AC: Is it one of the pleasures for you to cast against type? What you did with Sonam in Neerja or Sushmita in Aarya, and now here. Is that one of the thrills?
RM: I don’t have the power for reinvention. I’m not here for reinvention, I’m not here to get people out of their comfort zones. Kartik has the power, Sonam has the power, Sushmita has the power. The actors have the power to say yes or no. I don’t. They have to turn around and commit. They have to embrace the system I work in, which I call now a 360-degree system. I wish I had the power to say, “You better do it.” But I don’t have that power.
It’s when Kartik says, “Ok, let’s collaborate. What shall we do?” Then we have a discussion on many things and he comes up with The Terror Live (2013), and I say, “OK, that sounds good.” It’s part of a continuing conversation with other actors too. It’s with other producers, OTT platforms. This is my client (from an advertising point of view). And I’m in service of the actor. I am not in service of the character, not in service of the film, I am in service of my actor. My actor is in service of the character, so I just have to make sure that they are comfortable, respected, loved, embraced. Apart from that, the most important thing is that I am really not here to tell you what to do. I am here to make you do what you want, and I’ll make that comfortable.
AC: I was doing an interview with Sushmita before Aarya was released. She spoke about a very dramatic scene where she couldn’t summon her tears. She said, “I went to Ram and said that I need to cry but my tears are not coming” but there was no possibility of glycerine being used. He said, “If it is not coming, then there have to be no tears in the scene. It has to come from inside.” That’s really hard. Did you struggle with that?
KA: I never use glycerine. Contrary to the films I have done, I feel I am really good with emotional and dramatic scenes. The struggle was to sympathise with the character, which was full of grey shades.
We were not allowed to rehearse with any actors. The entire film was set up on Zoom calls at the height of the pandemic. From finalising the crew and cast to workshops – everything was done on Zoom calls. Later on, when we were in a bio-bubble, the actors were not allowed to meet during that time as well. We were only allowed to meet on-set when the particular scene was starting. We never rehearsed lines together. All my lines, workshops, or readings were with Vikas [Kumar, also the acting coach] or Ram sir. That too was more to do with you being well-versed with the lines. The film was divided into chapters: Chapter 1, 2, 3, and so on, so there was a tonality required to determine how this guy would speak in a chapter. It was a different kind of setup. I was in for a kind of really new way of filmmaking. So, for me, I was like a child in a playground, or a candy store. I was excited. Everything was so new. I couldn’t see the camera too.
Sometimes, sir would throw googlies at us. At times, a completely unknown character would pop up in a serious scene, and so, your reactions would be honest. You couldn’t cut [these sequences], so it would just go on, like a play. He [Madhvani] has mastered this art, and I was in love with it.
AC: This idea of capturing truth and capturing honesty in a film that has been shot over 10 days? You don’t have the luxury of honesty and truth. How do you do it?
RM: I’ll give you an anecdote. On Day 1, we had 3-4 cameras. From Day 3, we began to have 5 cameras, and by the time we got to Day 5, we had 7 cameras, because Mrunal Thakur was on the bridge set, there was somebody else on another set, there was Kartik on one set, live with Amruta Subhash, with cameras on her also.
So, there were 7 cameras coordinating all of this, and there was a team out there, who were trying to make this happen for me. There were 300 people off-set, trying to see how we can allow this thing to be sacred. What we are trying to make sure that we are trying to get a documentary truth and live, while everybody is out. Therefore, all 300 people should know when the cameras are rolling, without the word ‘action’.
On Day 5, I did take 1. At a certain point, people started asking, “Are we shooting this honest or dishonest?” ‘Honest’ meant the way that we shoot, ‘dishonest’ meant “OK listen, what we’ll do is that we’ll shoot Mrunal separately, Kartik separately, Soumya separately, we do traditional.” After the shot, I thought it wasn’t working. I was with the team and discussing this, and Kartik happened to be around. I told the team, “Let’s just forget this 7-camera business. Now I am going to do it the traditional way. Let’s just get the shot done. We’ll just shoot one shot with Mrunal and then shoot his shot. Just then, Kartik looked up and said, “Sir, traditional?” That’s all he said, nothing else. As soon as he said that, I realised that he gave me courage. I have not had an actor tell me and give me that kind of a push, who says “You go for what you want to go for.” I think that was a big day for me. I remember that day vividly. And that’s the day I said, “I think we can work together again.” And we did take 2, and it worked!