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Mar 27th 2023
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Madras Cafe

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Poster Madras CafeAn engaging political thriller let down only by the pace.


The tragic partition of India seems to be the only gruesome part in Indian history, which affected all the facets of Indian history, civics, social science, economics and offcourse geography. Few movie makers have successfully portrayed them over celluloid (Garm Hawa, Pinjar, etc). In a way, we can categorised these films dealing with International politics involving India. Hindi cinema also has a list of serious political movies, but most of the time, they were framed on national politics (Leader in 1964, Aandhi in 1975 to Peepli Live in 2010).

Madras Cafe raises the bar, and talks about one of the most shocking chapter of International politics, the rise of  LTTE and Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination. The movie would interest young cine goers, born after 1990, for its subject.

Story: An Intelligence Officer in RAW, Major Vikram Singh (John Abraham), is assigned a job to reach the neighbouring Sri Lanka, and get in touch with LTF, a rebel group of Tamils. He is supposed to act as a bridge between the group and the Indian Government. This happens as the Prime Minister of India is under pressure to seek a political solution after deputing the Indian Peace Army in the island country.

Due to unexpected circumstances peace army operations are stuck between the LTF and the local government. On his way Vikram meets an NRI reporter Jaya Sahni (Nargis Fakhri), who helps him a few times in getting important leads for his assignment. Vikram makes several attempts but things somehow slip from his hands. It all ends with the successful conspiracy of the brutal assassination of the ex-PM.

Direction: Shoojit Sircar has brought his third offering (Yahaan and Vicky Donor being the others) on his biggest scale. This complex subject needed special narration and who else could have been better other than an insider telling it. He has been successful in blending fiction and facts with great narration and fantastic visuals. He stays clear from commercial trappings to deliver an engaging espionage political thriller. Sircar smartly capture the scenes of war and shootouts, avoiding the gore and bloodbaths by filming them in black and white most of the time. He stays focused on the subject, avoiding any superfluous music, romance or comedy. You can feel the tension as you watch the movie.

The film is not a thriller in totality. It's a bit slow and comes across more like a docudrama. The first part is a bit complicated and demands special attention. Over all, Sircar has done a tremendous job in bringing this chapter on screen.

Performances: John Abraham deserves a bow for being the producer of the movie first and then for his role as major Vikram. You can identify with both his looks and mannerism of an army officer, stuck in between international conspiracy. The scene in which he sits on his wife's bed and weeps, shows utmost honesty of feelings. He seems to be developing as an intense actor.

Nargis Fakhri is in her comfort zone. She has to act, speak and look like an NRI, and that she does with ease. Prakash Belawadi and Siddharth Basu need a special mention, as Vikram's off shore and onshore bosses respectively. The former surprises with his brilliant gestures and the latter makes an impressive debut. Rashi Khanna as Vikram's wife is engaging in a small role. New faces playing different characters adds authenticity to the movie.

Music and Camera: Songs not always add pace to the film. Especially when it's a serious subject of international politics. Shoojit Sircar might have been thinking on these lines while going for no songs in the film. Although it has a music album and a song too during the credit roll. The background score and different themes by Shantanu Moitra, in between, help create the tension. The 'Assassination Theme' deserves special mention.

Camera by Kamaljit Negi has captured both the beauty of Srilanka and the essence of war scenes. The grey shaded treatment of the print goes well with the pace, gravity and obscurity of the subject. Negi impresses with his imaginations of frames and lightings.

Writing: This seems to be the most complicated job in the film. Somnath Dey and Shubhendu Bhattacharya have taken quite a difficult angle to narrate the story. Although they do a fine job but could not avoid making the story a bit less complex. Dialogues are good. The only thing which irritates is Jon's repetition of calling himself responsible for the PM's assassination. It could not be established anywhere in the story that he was solely responsible for the event.

The story misses to tell the root cause of LTF nurturing the Tamil rebels against natives. There is no mention of the agony and pain, Tamils might have faced, which lead them to gather under the flag of LTF and fight the local government. At times the movie feels like a bio pic of the ex-PM. It does successfully conveys the message that war is no solution as humans cannot run any mission, without the involvement of enticement, deceit and ambition.

Overall, a good effort. It could have been an edge of the seat’s thriller had it not been the slackness in the pace.

The character of Jaya (Nargis Fakhri) says in a scene, "When the money is transferred, only then the job is done". But even without the involvement of big money, the job of presenting a serious political thriller is done well.


(Rating: ***1/2)


---Sharad Vatss is a movie buff who works for Pepsi. The Views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the opinion of The Other News.


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