Saturday, 24 August 2013

MADRAS CAFE : Movie Review

Madras Cafe is a sinewy and riveting espionage thriller that entertains without having to play to the gallery. The main highlight of this flick is that it draws upon actual events that are still fresh in the nation’s collective memory and crafts a compelling and fast-paced political drama. Heightened realism is a means to achieve a synthesis of fantasy and history in this deftly scripted semi-fictional account of the processes leading to Rajiv Gandhi's tragic assassination in 1991. There are no heroes and villains here as Shoojit Sircar is clearly not interested in turning the film into an oversimplified, hackneyed good versus evil yarn. Gritty, sombre and largely understated, Shoojit Sircar’s offering stands out in its purposefulness and honesty of intent. Yes, he weaves bits of fiction into historical developments, but for the most part, he tells the story as it is, eschewing the temptation to be diplomatic or deliberately abstract or apologetic. The deft mix of facts and fiction makes the movie a hugely satisfying experience. Shoojit Sircar takes a historical actuality and along with screenplay writers Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya weaves a captivating and compelling screenplay around it. Madras Cafe exposes the culture of violence that every nation bears, in which the only people who suffer are the commoners who seek only peace and happiness from their lives. Madras Cafe is an undeniably impressive and well-thought out flick, that reveals a lot of lesser-known facts about the Sri Lankan War and the pathetic plight of the Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka during the 80s.

SCRIPT & SCREENPLAY                          :          The trenchant script, co-written by Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya, attempts and succeeds in building the same spiral of pseudo-history that Oliver Stone built in "JFK". The story hinges on a conspiracy theory that links the assassination of a pacifist ex-Prime Minister to the machinations of giant corporations and foreign agencies out to destabilise the subcontinent. Movie also attempts a risky tightrope walk between staying true to recent geopolitical history and the need to serve up an imagined, dramatised spy story and succeeds on both counts. At no point does Madras Cafe appear to be in danger of losing its balance and plummeting into a void. Its muscles stem primarily from its steadfast eschewal of narrative conventions that are a part and parcel of spy thrillers. For one, the male protagonist is no superhero primed to perform acts of logic-defying bravado. The only ‘grand’ statement of intent that he is allowed to make is, “I will do it my way”. It turns out that it easier said than done for he is in a game that is controlled by forces and agencies that are far bigger than him.
Coming to the storyline, Madras Cafe starts with the protagonist Vikram Singh (John Abraham) in a shocking and unrecognisable state of a drunkard, who was once the special Indian RAW officer. Singh narrates the story of the horrific experience that he had undergone, after he was appointed by RAW Officials (Siddharth Basu as the RAW chief, Piyush Pandey as the Cabinet Secretary) to conduct covert operations in Sri Lanka shortly after the Indian Peace Keeping Force was forced to withdraw. The instructions given to him are to track down the activities of LTA Boss Anna Bhaskkaran (Ajay Ratnam).  Once in war zone, Vikram  reports to his superior Bala (Prakash Belawadi) and also bumps into London based war correspondent Jaya (Nargis Fakhri). What follows is Vikram's close encounter with gun-toting extremists who view themselves as revolutionaries and he finds himself on a ground where treachery is rife with danger lurking at every corner with violence erupting without any warning. Worst of all, in the shadows, it is difficult to tell friend from foe. 

STARCAST                                    :           Casting director of this movie i.e. Jogi  deserves applause for choosing the right actors as every actor seems to take a cue from the vast resources of authenticity at their disposal. One other aspect is that makers have not used established and mainstream actors in the ensemble roles which has given a raw kind of feel to the characters. This could well be John Abraham’s coming of age role. Wooden yes, but he fits in to the narrative with minimal fuss, neither dominating the proceeding, nor getting overwhelmed by the weight of the script. Troubled and brooding, angry and helpless, frustrated yet committed to duty — he plays it all with uncharacteristic maturity. Even Nargis Fakhri, so self-consciously affected as Ranbir Kapoor's doomed soul-mate in "Rockstar", nails her war correspondent's part with her radiant presence. Rashi Khanna as John's wife has a short role to play but has essayed her character with aplomb.Specially riveting is Prakash Belawade as John's senior associate, who seems to drink hard to escape from the enormity of his compromise. His expressions, body language and dialect are a treat to watch. And, how can i forget to mention Siddhartha Basu, our old quiz master of Doordarshan days who has played character of RAW chief in the most subtle and convincing manner. Even, Piyush Pandey with his trademark royal moustache has played his character with ease. Ajay Ratnam as Anna has looked convincing in his role of LTA chief.

TECHNICAL FINESSE                     :         Madras Cafe takes pride in its technical brilliance. The soundtrack is exceptionally honest. Shantanu Moitra's background music underscores every scene without hammering in the emotions. Plenty of the credit for the tonal correctness of the narrative must go to Kamaljeet Negi's brilliantly unadorned cinematography, which locks in on stunning visuals of violence and espionage-related action without falling into the mistake of making the frames look prettier than the grim situation that they are meant to capture. Traveling through the seas, the shots around the jungles, aerial shots are all mind-blowing. Editor Chandrashekhar Prajapati imbues a documentary style mood to the footage. But the sense of cinematic expansiveness is retained in the way the camera moves through the characters' restless lives, searching for positions of comfort in a situation laden with desperate anxiety. As a director Shoojit Sircar hits the right strides, and blends fact and fiction with great narrative aplomb and visual flair. He constructs an account of what might have happened in the last two and a half years leading up to the elimination of an Indian political leader by the world’s first-ever human bomb. He restructures the civil war in Sri Lanka with authenticity, portraying the rebels and diplomats and also depicting India's involvement in the conflict that had ramifications on India. As a matter of fact, the storyteller tries to be as neutral as possible while narrating the tale and that's what makes the effort so credible and convincing. Soojit remarkably keeps the texture, tone of this film undisturbed till the songs, romance and unwanted stuffs.. the characters look, location, art work is bang on target..  Additionally, Shoojit deserves brownie points for thinking beyond the stereotype, especially since he doesn't repeat himself after the immensely successful and likeable VICKY DONOR.

WOW MOMENTS                                :     From the opening scene of a brutal terror attack on a bus in Jaffna to the climactic explosion that shatters the hero’s hopes of stopping a heinous act, Madras Cafe does not let go of its grip on the audience for even a moment. So, for me each and every scene of the movie is a wow moment.

CONCLUSION                                     :       Madras Cafe stands apart from run-of-the-mill smack-downs because it does not celebrate vacuous militaristic machismo. What the film does instead is bring home the horrors of a civil war and its human ramifications. It's a film that you should watch because it gives you an insight into an exceptionally pertinent episode of history. If you are in the frame of mind to watch superior quality, sensible cinema, I would strongly recommend MADRAS CAFE to you. Try not to miss it!

Follow me on twitter at