While most Bollywood movies take an easy and safe route to box office even at the cost of shamelessly abhorring to juvenile, infantile and utter idiocy, Madras Cafe is a bold attempt. There is no songs, no heroism, no glamor but a story where the protagonist fails in his mission and recounts a horrid and bloodied history which the current generations may not be fully aware. Bollywood rarely touches a sensitive subject especially one that can be politically explosive. Here the director Shoojit Sircar adeptly mixes fiction with history to bring a chapter in India that engaged the Indian army into a war it would have rather avoided and snuffed the life of ex-Prime minister.
War blunts the line between rights and wrongs. Power,betrayal and greed fuels a strife and can change the course of nations and civilization. Srilankan Tamils are an unfortunate society who were caught in the crossfire of ethnic nationalism, marginalization, condemnation and a section of their own people who chose a militant path. Due to regional power dynamics, India got usurped into the bloody civil war of the tiny island nation in late 1980’s directly when the Indian Peace Keeping Force ended up fighting a battle against LTTE.
In the first half of Madras Cafe, Shoojit Sircar takes you to the times of IPKF operation while the second half builds up to the assassination of the ex-PM.
Vikram (John Abraham) is send on a covert mission to the war-torn Srilanka to help facilitate a peace plan as visioned by the PM of India. They achieve to bring peace by dividing the rebel groups and arming them against each other. Playing in a troubled water always ends in more murkier situations.
The covert operation fails due to betrayal and greed and the agent returns back to India. The repercussions of the direct involvement of India not just haunts the agent’s personal life but in the second half, the movie takes through the operational events of the Tamil rebels to assassinate the ex-PM who they felt were against their interest.
The script, co-written by Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya does not takes sides it weaves fiction amidst real history through the eyes of a fictitious character. It also treads a line that if timely action was taken the assassination could have been prevented.
John Abraham accused more for his ‘wooden’ expressions and stiff appearances manages to give life to his character. His character is restrained without the regular Bollywood bravado and heroism. Barring few instances where he strides in the war-torn island with aviator glasses and not necessarily merging unassumingly amidst the crowd especially since he is on a covert operation, Vikram stays afloat more believably.
Debutant Rashi Khanna makes an impression as his wife and the brief husband-wife interactions are well crafted.
Nargis Fakhri, as a war correspondent makes for a more credible performance compared to her Rockstar days and Quiz-master Siddartha Basu as a government officer nicely slips into the skin of their characters. Prakash Belawadi, as Vikram’s superior and a hard-drinking and honey-trapped, corrupt officer deserves a special mention.
The revolutionary rebel group LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) is renamed Liberation of Tamil Front (LTF) and their leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran is renamed Anna Bhaskaran (played by South Actor Ajay Retnam)
Finally John Abraham deserves a huge appreciation for being a bold producer. After Vicky Donor again directed by Shoorjit and produced by John, he follows up with Madras Cafe yet another film that requires a big faith and nerves due to its controversial and sensitive nature.
Madras Cafe is a compelling watch that treads boldly into an area usually Bollywood shies away from.