Kartik Aaryan and Ram Madhvani on creating a 'Dhamaka' on screen

The actor-director duo talk about their latest Netflix thriller



by

Somya Mehta

Published: Thu 16 Dec 2021, 10:33 AM

Last updated: Wed 19 Jan 2022, 8:10 PM

Organised over Zoom calls and shot in around 10 days, Dhamaka was amongst the first films to be planned and filmed in the midst of the pandemic. An official remake of The Terror Live (2013), Dhamaka, which quite literally translates to ‘explosion’, depicts the influence of broadcast news media as analogous to a ticking time-bomb in the kind of impact and ability it has, to send shock waves across the nation. Directed by Ram Madhvani, previously known for Neerja and Emmy-nominated web series Aarya, the film sees Kartik Aaryan playing the role of an ill-fated journalist, breaking away from the conventional moulds of romance and comedy genres.

In a conversation with City Times, the actor-director duo reminisces the journey of creating Dhamaka, with Madhvani’s 360-degree way of shooting as well as the love and appreciation the film has received.

The film has garnered a positive response. Did you both anticipate this kind of love?

Ram Madhvani: Each time it’s like giving your final exams, you’re hoping and praying that people like it. And though we obviously had conviction in what we created, there’s always that nervousness whenever you are sending it out there, into the universe.

Kartik Aaryan: It’s always a unit test, where it feels like you’re waiting for the result to come out. We were sure about the content and hoped that people would enjoy it, that they’d be on the edge of their seats when they watch the film. We were confident about the subject, but didn’t anticipate this kind of reaction that we are getting right now. You don’t expect it, but you want it. And I’m glad that it happened with our film.

There’s a recurrent motif of risk-taking in the film. What was the biggest risk you were taking, embarking on this journey?

KA: For me, it was the fact that I was shifting genres and doing something I’d never done before. Be it the subject or the kind of filmmaking that Ram sir is known for – the 360-degree way of shooting -– which I think is a genius way of filmmaking. But the major risk was to shift genres for me, from doing romantic films or comedy films, to doing a thriller. Wondering whether I would get that level of acceptance from the audience was the biggest challenge and this film has given me that validation.

RM: On one hand, when an actor does not take risks, everyone amplifies that he’s playing it too safe. And if he does take risks and it doesn’t work out, it can hamper the actor’s ability to accept other work. So, I think that my responsibility was really towards Kartik. To make sure that the actor can take more risks. Therefore, I think it’s very important for Kartik, in his own journey as an actor, to get this kind of love and appreciation when he’s taken a risk. It means that he can continue taking risks.

WATCH: IN CONVERSATION WITH KARTIK AARYAN AND RAM MADHVANI

The film was shot in 10 days, with the 360-degree way of filming. How do you retain the honesty and authenticity of the moment, while filming in an unconventional way?

KA: The 360-degree way of filmmaking that Ram sir has is like an actor’s dream come true. It was just me and the cameras. He has this unique way of shooting, where we don’t have to know where the cameras are placed. The set is pre-lit; we don’t have to wait for lighting. Everything on set was real and fully functional. There were none of the usual over-the-shoulder shots, close-ups, mid-shots; he had already got it all covered with the cameras. We were being shot from every angle possible.

So, for me as an actor, it meant I could fully become part of the world he had created. He never says “action” or “cut”, he just comes to you and says, “whenever you’re ready, just start” and goes away. I can take a minute, five minutes, or 10 minutes. So, it doesn’t disturb me as an actor. And we used to shoot 10-15 pages of the script at once. It was not the usual way of filming but I loved it.

RM: We’re not proud that we finished the film in 10-11 days. It’s not as if we were hurrying, we worked 12 hours a day, we never wanted it to be published that we had finished it that fast. People sometimes think that you’re in a hurry. That’s not the case. We believe in a certain amount of organisation and planning and in not wasting resources. I always want to figure out how I can make it efficient for everyone. Why do you have to hang around the set? Why must there be a light and setup change? Also, I just took it for granted that Kartik would do it. It never even occurred to me for a minute that he would not be open to this way of filmmaking. It’s a system of filmmaking that is trying to get to some truth, to see how you can cover the landscape of the human face. The entire process is to get to that truth. And Kartik embraced it.

Ram, could you revisit the moment when you first discovered this way of filmmaking?

I come from advertising. I’m used to working with 300 people on set. But what used to happen is every time I wanted to speak to my actor, I had to almost metaphorically wear an American rugby uniform and had to make my way by repeatedly saying “excuse me, excuse me”, just to get to my actor. After a while, I started getting a little frustrated as I felt I needed my own sacred space with the actor. So, during my first film Let’s Talk, I started inventing this system, which is like a “fly on the wall” kind of system. We did it during Neerja and Aarya. And then finally in Dhamaka, it was the first time I had the confidence of a male hero to adjust to this method. It just gave me a lot more confidence and conviction.

What was the process of shooting a feature film amid the pandemic?

RM: I think ours was one of the first films to be shot in the pandemic and I have to credit my co-producer Amita Madhvani and my executive producers. We booked a whole hotel with 500 rooms. Our crew was only around 250 people and we built a bridge between the hotel and the shoot location, so there would be no exposure on the way. We got people tested before and after the shoot, so they felt safe and happy when they went home to their families. These were all rules we made along the way because nobody knew at that time. I remember every time Kartik would want to sit down, I’d hover around him with a disinfectant.

KA: We were tested before coming in and even before meeting other people in the hotel. It was one of the first films to be shot during the lockdown. I think the vaccines were also not there when we started shooting, so it was definitely scary for all of us. For almost 250 people to get into a hotel to shoot a movie was a big deal at the time. When the planning was going on, we were under a major lockdown. So, the whole film was planned through zoom calls because we couldn’t meet each other. As soon as things got better, we started filming. What was also challenging was that I had not met any actors prior to the shoot.

Kartik Aaryan on completing 10 years in the industry

“I’m really proud of my journey. But at times I feel like, really, am I getting old? I feel like I started as a child artist (laughs) but the journey has been so quick. Full of ups and downs. But I’m so happy that I’ve survived. And I’ll keep on surviving. And hopefully, in the next 10 years, I’ll be ruling it (laughs)! But jokes apart, I’m hoping to do a lot more work and to enjoy it fully.”

I’ve been following Kartik’s career: Ram Madhvani

I’ve seen three films of Kartik and I’ve enjoyed them. I’ve been following his career and was wanting to work with him for a while now. I’ve found that his sharpness and input, on scenes, scripts, even music, is something I began to rely on. And that is something that can only happen because he has been there, done that. It’s only when you are constantly sharpening your skills and sharpening your instruments, that you can begin to use them better. And the only way you can sharpen your instruments is by working, and he has definitely been working. I think experience is everything because I’m sure when he was younger, he wouldn’t have had the same inputs.

somya@khaleejtimes.com


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