Movie Review: Madras Cafe

Movie Review: Madras Cafe

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Movie Review: Madras Cafe

Director: Shoojit Sircar

Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri, Rashi Khanna and Siddharth Basu

It was one of the darkest hours of our country’s political history. A national leader, Rajiv Gandhi was blown to bits by an LTTE militant. It shocked the world. That’s the history Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe recreates. It tells an important tale, one that deserves an audience far larger than the 100-crore brigade. But along the way it struggles, sporadically, with underwhelming performances and choppy scenes. Contrary to that is another technical side of Madras Cafe that impresses. Cinematography, writing and production design are all top notch. But in hind sight, one feels the movie could’ve been much better.

John Abraham plays an R&AW agent on a mission in civil war torn Sri Lanka. In classic film espionage style, he makes more enemies than friends. What with LTF (the cinematic equivalent of the real-life rebel army LTTE – Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) leaders being pissed off by his political presence. He makes friends too. Nargis Fakhri, as an International reporter covering the Lankan civil war, becomes one of his close aides. And it’s his struggle with war that forms the crux of the story. This super spy narrative track of course is a parallel to the real story of then Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi’s (who for diplomatic reasons isn’t named in the film) involvement in another nation’s domestic affairs. The political game involving Indian politicians, bureaucrats, agents and Lankan rebels, army etc is the punch of this film. It’s a great story. One that highlights the true nature of war. Sircar and his writers Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya excel at capturing great drama and sublime emotions. But the joy of a complex story unfolding with gusto is soon hurdled by inconsistencies.

Full marks to John Abraham for the effort. But he’s a better producer than he is a performer. Even though he looks his part there are times when his performance lacks that fine touch of much-required nuance. Sircar takes the smart liberty of giving Fakhri English dialogue. It works because she’s an Indian girl working in London. But then the viewer has to compromise with too many Hindi subtitles on English dialogue.

Thank god somebody has the conviction to make a spy thriller without sore-thumb-like item numbers and songs. But then Sircar also chooses to add a thousand quick cuts to his scenes. While we’ve seen it work wonders in Hollywood spy films, here it doesn’t quite complement the storytelling. What also doesn’t work is a lot of the dialogue. There are too many lines that sneak in English words in the middle of Hindi sentences. It sounds conversational but it’s also jerky.

At its core, Madras Cafe is a well intentioned film. But its packaging isn’t all that authentic. The beginning scenes with a gruff John engaging in confessional thoughts with a Father in a Church are not so inspiring. But as they say, it’s the effort that counts. And Madras Cafe has plenty of honesty in that department. It has decent action, gun fights and political drama. It entertains to a fair degree as well. The climax conjures up good steam too. But it never quite does enough to match up to its promise.