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Ram Madhvani, Creator of Emmy-Nominated Disney Series ‘Aarya,’ Sets ‘The Waking of a Nation’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Ram Madhvani
Disney Plus Hotstar/Ram Madhvani Films/Netflix

Ram Madhvani, creator of Emmy-nominated Disney Plus Hotstar series “Aarya” and director of upcoming Netflix original film “Dhamaka,” is now prepping series “The Waking of a Nation.”

The series is set against the backdrop of an infamous event in Indian colonial history, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, which took place on Apr. 13, 1919. A large, peaceful protest gathering, part of the Indian independence movement, was taking place at the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar, Punjab. British troops led by Brigadier-General R. E. H. Dyer surrounded the venue, blocked the only exit and opened fire on the gathering, causing the deaths of hundreds, and thousands more to be injured.

The massacre is considered to be a pivotal moment in the Indian freedom movement. A commission, led by Lord Hunter, was appointed by the British Indian government in October of that year, to look into the events in the Punjab.

“It’s a six part or seven part series, which is going to talk about the commission, so it’s a bit like a court case, but it also talks about what happened, what led to it and what happened after it, which I think is as important as what happened on the day,” Madhvani told Variety. “Because, why did Jallianwala Bagh happen? And I think a lot of us don’t know why it happened – we know what happened, but what led to it?”

The final draft of the script will be ready in two months time and a major global streamer has approached Madhvani about the series already.

Meanwhile, the busy filmmaker is delivering season 2 of hit series “Aarya” to streamer Disney Plus Hotstar. The series is an adaptation of Dutch show “Penoza,” where a woman has to join a mafia gang and avenge her slain husband. The project was initially set up as a feature film at Fox Star Studios but fell through a month before the shoot and Madhvani went on to direct the acclaimed hijack drama “Neerja” (2016), starring Sonam Kapoor, for the studio.

“Aarya,” however, was on the Disney Plus Hotstar radar and it greenlit the series. The series is headlined by former Miss Universe and top Bollywood star Sushmita Sen, for whom season 1 was a triumphant comeback after a five year break due to illness. There are plans for more seasons of “Aarya.”

What attracts Madhvani to a project is the thought behind it and not just the plot. In “Aarya,” for example, he was fascinated by Sen’s character, who simultaneously fulfils the roles of a wife, mother, daughter and boss even as she grapples with the friction between dharma and karma.

“I do put in a certain philosophical angle, and when I get that angle, I say I want to make this because you have to lift it from plot,” says Madhvani.

Similarly, when Bollywood star Kartik Aryan approached him with the idea of an Indian adaptation of Korean film “The Terror Live” (2013), about an ambitious news anchor who covers an unfolding terrorist scenario, which became “Dhamaka,” Madhvani looked beyond just the plot.

“Just like ‘Neerja’ is not just a hijack story, ‘Dhamaka’ is really about a fallen hero, a tragic hero, who is somebody who pays the price of ambition,” says Madhvani.

“I want to try and see how I can make it so that it reaches out to you in a way that a question is posed, which is what will you lose? And what will you gain? And what are the value systems?,” says Madhvani. “Because one of the things I do want to put out is, I like tragedy. I think that catharsis is very important. In today’s world, I think we need to cry.”

Meanwhile, Ram Madhvani Films is laughing with several projects on the go, made by “like hearted people” as Madhvani describes the company’s in-house team, including underwater thriller “Dive,” directed by Nitin Parmar.

“Dhamaka,” produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP Movies and Ram Madhvani Films in association with Lotte Cultureworks, Globalgate Entertainment and Lionsgate, streams on Netflix from Nov. 19.

“Aarya” is nominated for best drama series at the International Emmy Awards, which take place Nov. 22 in New York.