Movie Madras Cafe
Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri, Piyush Pandey, Siddharth Basu, Raashi Khanna
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Rating: * * * *
The film, set in India and Sri Lanka, is a political spy thriller set against backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war. Vikram Singh (John Abraham) is an Indian Army special officer who is appointed by the intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing to conduct covert operations in Sri Lanka shortly after Indian Peace Keeping Force was forced to withdraw.
As he journeys to Sri Lanka, with the intention of disrupting a rebel group, he discovers the larger issue. There he meets a British journalist (Jaya) who wants to reveal the truth about the civil war, and in the process he uncovers a conspiracy.
Movie Review : A brave attempt to traverse a less travelled pathway in Bollywood terms, this Shoojit Sircar helmed thriller has Bollywood heartthrob lead actor John Abraham as one of it’s producers- which is certainly heart-warming to know. That a mainstream actor who has built his stardom on bollywood fluff , dares to go with quality while producing, is quite commendable. ‘Vicky Donor’ did the trick first and now it’s the immensely compelling ‘Madras Café’ for you. ‘Madras Café’ basically attempts to revisit a bloody civil war that had engulfed the Emerald Forest- nation for over 26 years and sets out to show us how it affected an assassination that stunted Indian history.
The story itself is no mystery. Reams of newsprint has been spent on the assasination plot that spelled the eventual demise of ex-prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi so it’s familiar and widely known territory that Shoojit and his two writers Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya seek to bring to light. The script is well-knit and impressively detailed. The ‘real-time’ players have obviously been given assumed monikers in order to prevent offense. The attempt is totally un-Bollywoodlike. There’s no song and dance, no romance, no breaking into impromptu dance, no item numbers and little artifice. In fact the treatment is very matter-of-fact and closer to documentary film making. The visuals are stark and hauting. The strife is conveyed in no uncertain terms. Sri Lanka’s civil war and it’s most dreaded terrorist Anna Bhaskaran(Ajay Ratnam) is the key to all the turmoil. Playing him against his former comrade Shri( Kanan Arunachalam) appears to be the modus-operandi of those brokering peace.
The set-up is a little thin because it’s not clear why Major Vikram Singh(John Abraham) is chosen for a RAW posting in Sri Lanka where the Indian Peace Force was facing grave difficulties. But putting that aside, it’s a smartly designed run of action beginning with a massacre of innocent civilians in Jaffna and ending with the assaination. Thankfully , Vikram, the central player here, is not depicted as a Rambo , who single-handedly saves the country. In fact he is shown-up as a guilt ridden individual, human in his foibles and very much breakable.
Sircar gets Vikram to Kasauli, running away from his troubles and escaping into alcoholism, and eventually confiding in a priest. That’s Sircar’s mechanism to tell the story. Vikram seeks absolution from the Priest and ventil;ates about his guilt and regreat about his wife and his inability to save the ex-PM. The flashback gives us the real picture with taut, stark and engaging plotting, visuals and treatment.
RAW chief Robin Bhatt(Siddharth Basu) with due permission from the Cabinet Secretary(Piyush Pandey), ropes in Vikram to assist the field team in Srilanka.
Bala(Prakash Belawadi) field chief of thw Raw team in Sri Lanka is inexplicably abrasive towards Vikram. He obviously dislikes the fact that Vikram has been sent to oversee the field action. Vikram eventually finds he is being set-up by someone from within and tries to make the cut expected of him but fails and has to return to his home base, Cochin. But the war is not over.
Of course the cutting back and forth across continents and over time is a bit confusing but it allows for some depth which is a necessary. The action is sporadic and the intensity builds up gradually.The first half is spent establishing the characters and their motivations. It’s only when the assaination plot gets uncovered, and the obvious build-up of information and covert action unravels over months and eventual days, that tension begins to rack-up. The narrative length is just right. At two hours and ten minutes, the film manages to keep you educated, engaged and involved withit’s easy pace. Despite the familiarity that the characters bring forth by their resonance in real life, we still learn a lot from the experience. Nargis Fakhri as Jaya Sahni, the London Based reporter who assists Vikram in getting his leads, does well to remin consistent and effective. John Abraham goes way beyond routine woodenness to put-together a performance that is intense, heart-touching and empathetic. Shoojit Sircar must also be complimented for getting his lead actor in the mood and mode for an effective enactment. In fact Abraham’s first person narration has all the pathos and regret required to pull you in.
The strife-torn country is depicted with unfettered accuracy by cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi- the deftly composed visuals skilfully weaves in a textured struggle of impactful depth. Manohar Verma’s action sequences aid and abet with great effect. Juhi Chaturvedi’s dialogues though, weigh down the narrative a great deal. There’s just a little too much verbosity involved here. Eventually ‘Madras Café’ scores big because of it’s smartly woven drama and largely clear-cut characterisations. And the climactic blast is a stunning tour-de-force. One that is heart-stopping and unforgettable!