It’s never easy to make and release a historic fictional movie in India where the majority of the audience spends money to watch dim-witted and romantic movies. The director and the actors have to be very competent and proficient to portray some historical events that still stir up jingoism among the people. The difficulties of attempting such a true-blue Bollywood political thriller are evident in Madras Café. Director Shoojit Sircar places his film at the height of the civil war in Sri Lanka in the late '80s and early '90s, and it culminates in the assassination of an Indian political figure who closely resembles Rajiv Gandhi, but he (Sircar) is clearly constrained in naming names.
There are sequences of power and eloquence. And passages in the first half that had me so confused that I couldn’t figure out who was chasing whom. Director Shoojit Sircar has tacked on an awkward framing device, which has Major Vikram Singh, played by John Abraham, narrating the entire story to a priest in a church. The film begins with a disclaimer that it is a work of fiction. Names have been changed but the events of Madras Café are clearly based in the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, which ultimately led to the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
Here, in spite of the fact that the story revolves around Sri Lanka and Jaffna, too often, the characters in the film call it, awkwardly, 'the island'. Not once is Rajiv Gandhi named: the actor who plays him is a look-alike, but he is consistently referred to as the 'ex-Prime Minister'. Rebel force LTTE, which spearheaded the demand for a 'separate Tamil homeland (Eelam)' is called LTF in the film. And LTTE chief Prabhakaran, the man behind Rajiv's assassination, becomes Anna (Rathnam).
Major Vikram Singh, played by John Abraham is appointed by the RAW to handle the covert operations of the Indian Military at Jaffna and resolve the ongoing crisis created by the LTF resulting in genocide of the innocent people. The story is built upon the political tension that kept the Indian Ministry involved intensely to establish peace in Jaffna during the civil war. What we see in Madras Cafe is totally gripping- when Vikram Singh and Jaya, a foreign journalist exchange some significant and confidential information about the LTF and the leak in the Indian intelligence agency that actually results in a total transformation in the set of international events.
John Abraham has acted exceptionally well in the character- who tries his best to embark upon the precarious struggle going on in Sri Lanka. Nargis Fakhri has shown some tremendous improvement in her acting and the ‘No-Romantic loop’ between them seems to work superbly for the movie. The movie moves very swiftly and the audience is engrossed for the entire duration of the movie. The cinematography is noteworthy and it is a well-scripted political suspense. For a story we already know, Madras Cafe is one of those that excels at creating a thriller, in a breath-taking manner.
Madras Cafe definitely elevates John both as an actor and a director to a higher level. Shoojit Sircar hits the right strides and blends facts and fiction terrifically. The writers had done their research well. Debutante Rashi Khanna makes an impact in a brief but significant appearance as the army man’s wife.
Madras Cafe is a must watch for all those who want to know about the history behind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the LTTE etc. In two hours. It’s effective and grim unlike the ludicrous drama and item numbers that incite cheers in the theatre. It’s definitely a brave move on the part of the director to come with such a movie and Madras Cafe is certainly a trend setter.
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