After his directorial debut “Rocketry: The Nambi Effect,” which bowed at the Cannes market earlier this year that he also wrote and co-produced, R. Madhavan is back solely as an actor with thriller “Dhokha – Round D Corner,” directed by Kookie Gulati (“The Big Bull”).
After stints in music videos, Khushalii Kumar makes her film debut, playing a woman with a personality disorder who is taken hostage by a terrorist. She is married to Madhavan’s character.
“It’s very tightly knit and any sort of revelation might give you a hint and ruin it for people,” Madhavan told Variety about the plot of the film. “It looks like a pretty straightforward story, but as the film progresses, nobody is actually who they seem.”
For Madhavan, after the rigors of “Rocketry,” being back to acting duties and getting back on set after long months away due to COVID-19 lockdowns, was a relief.
“It was great to be on the set, feel the smell of the sets and the unit and everything. But most importantly for me, I wanted to make sure that I was able to go onto a set and take the director’s hat off and take the producer’s hat off and play something that is completely different,” said Madhavan. “Because it’s so instinctive that when you’re directing a film or you’ve written the film, you’re prone to making comments and giving suggestions which might not be right for this particular film. So I wanted to shed myself of all that. And I couldn’t find a better project than this because I was playing a character that I’ve never done before.”
Kumar, whose character has delusions, said that initially the role was challenging and it took her some time to get into the skin of it. Her research involved a lot of reading, briefings from Gulati and viewing YouTube videos.
“It took me a while to understand her, to start behaving like her. And then, as and when I started to discover her and started to understand her, things started to become way more easier,” Kumar told Variety. “We go through mood swings – sometimes you will break down and you will get angry, or you will get extremely happy. But when that goes out of control, that’s when it becomes a problem. And it can become like a disease which needs to be taken care of. So I studied various mood swings. And for women, they do go through hormonal imbalances, how does that play? And how does that affect a person? So I just tried to fine tune all of that. And once I was able to do that and identify my own self with the character, then it was it was easier for me to play.”
Kumar also credits her experienced co-actors, who, apart from Madhavan, include Aparshakti Khurana (“Helmet”) and Darshan Kumaar (“The Kashmir Files”), in helping her ease into the role.
“Dhokha” releases Sept. 23, being celebrated in India as National Cinema Day, with tickets reduced to INR75 ($0.92) for the day. The U.S. and U.K. observed Sept. 3 as National Cinema Day with reduced ticket rates and the move paid off with attendance records being set. India looks set to follow suit with cinemas reporting sellouts via advance booking.
That is welcome news for Bollywood as some of its biggest titles underperformed this year with “Brahmastra” bringing some relief in recent weeks. “One wants to ponder whether one of the villains in this story is the price of the ticket in the first place,” Madhavan said. “If so many people are keen to come to the theaters why are we keeping them away? Is there any way that we can make an adjustment in such a manner that we can get people back into what is right now a shaky industry?”
Madhavan says that a well cut trailer has the potential to lure audiences back into the cinemas for the opening weekend and many would not “want to go through the pain” after reading reviews and would rather trust word-of-mouth and watch the film on weekdays when the ticket prices are cheaper.
Next up for Madhavan is Bhopal gas tragedy series “The Railway Men,” while Kumar has family drama “Dedh Bigha Zameen.”
“Dhokha” is produced by T-Series, part of its 100-film slate.