On Wednesday evening my family watched Dhamaka. The word means “explosion”, and the film certainly lived up to its title – in the sense that it was, well, explosively bad.
The storyline follows a news anchor named Arjun Pathak, who gets a mysterious call from a man named Raghubeer Mhata. Raghubeer claims he will blow up various Mumbai landmarks unless he gets an in-person apology from a politician whose callousness led to the deaths of three fellow construction workers during a rainstorm. When Arjun laughs at him, Raghubeer sets off an explosive in the Sea-Link bridge, which traps a handful of civilians – including Arjun’s estranged wife Soumya.
Dhamaka has all the makings of a masala action movie: a terrorist plot, an emotionally tortured hero, a hint of political commentary. Yet the latter is where it fails miserably, sliding into regressive territory. The film clearly aims to make some kind of statement on how the Indian government mistreats the poor, yet it barely goes into Raghubeer’s plight and those of his coworkers. After a short monologue by him at the beginning of the film, the story focuses almost-solely on his terrorist actions and Arjun’s heroism. If the film truly wanted to underscore the hopelessness Raghubeer felt before turning to violence, why did it gloss over the details of his story in favour of Arjun’s privileged and frankly far less interesting one? The entire plotline felt as if it were using the very real problem of systemic oppression of the poor as a cardboard backdrop for a middle-class – the movie’s target audience – hero to shine.
Furthermore, why make Raghubeer so villainous? Why have him slaughter innocent people even as he claims all he wants is an apology for the incident which killed his alleged co-workers? Why turn the audience against him so decisively, if the idea is to underscore that he has a point? In a land of farmers’ suicides and debt slavery, why choose a poor man as a villain without diving deep into the vast story of Indian poverty? A step further – why give the hero a Brahmin name, Pathak, when the mass-murderous antagonist is implied to belong to an oppressed caste? Why are the heroic Arjun and Soumya pale-skinned, while the villainous characters are both darker-skinned?
Dhamaka clearly tries to be subversive. It clearly tries to be critical of the Indian government’s exploitation of the poor – but how can it possibly succeed when it hits the same tired stereotypes, over and over? How can it accomplish this goal if it is too cowardly to devote more than five minutes to actually describing said exploitation? The movie may be titled with a bang, but the end result is a mere whimper.
Watch Article 15 instead.