Viacom18, Shoojit Sircar and John Abraham have pulled off a film that will, no doubt, push the boundaries of new-age, ‘realistic’ cinema. Madras Cafe, which is set in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s during the Sri Lankan civil war and the assassination of a former Indian Prime Minister, is a thought-provoking film. That’s more than you can say about the majority of Hindi films, which are larger than life and targeted at a mass audience.
So where most filmmakers choose to make masala money-spinners, Sircar and Viacom18 have swum against the tide to make a film that brings to life events that dominated the then politics on the Indian sub-continent. The filmmakers have walked a very fine line. Meticulously researched and grounded in fact, this is definitely not a documentary. The film, in fact, subtly and skilfully blurs the line between fact and fiction. As a result, you’re so deeply engrossed in the film that you neglect to wonder where real and reel meet.
Kudos to Sircar, who presents a crucial part of our history with aplomb. The film is a gripping, real-life thriller. It is strong, honest, strikingly photographed and appropriately portrays the devastating events of the time. It is a triumph when it comes to realistic cinema.
Sircar and his writers skilfully present a film that is bold and set against a backdrop of war and strife. Kudos also to John Abraham. It takes nerves of steel for an actor to not only to play the lead in a film like this but to also come on board as a producer. The film is a technically well balanced product.
The story follows Vikram Singh (John Abraham), an ex-Army officer and now a RAW agent, who is deployed by his senior Robin Dutt (Siddhartha Basu) into a war-torn covert operation in Jaffna (Sri Lanka). His mission is to break a resolute rebel group, the LTF, lead by Anna (Ajay Ratnam). After India and Sri Lanka signed the peace accord in the mid-1980s, India had also pledged to help the neighbouring country emerge from the ethnic strife between the Sinhalese and the Tamils.
While on his mission, Singh meets a passionate war journalist Jaya (Nargis Fakhri). Falling prey to a leak, he loses his first shot to succeed. Soon, he finds out that the LTF is plotting to kill the former Indian Prime Minister (Sanjay Gurbaxani).
Again, it is the director’s vision that holds the team together and Sircar is marvellous at achieving this. He tightly wraps the story with enough legitimacy. Not one frame looks unreal.
Writer duo Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya, who weave together an unconventional story and screenplay, are spot on. From research to their reformation of the story, they are exceptional. If it’s the writers who excel, it’s also the dialogue by Juhi Chaturvedi that fills the canvas with her remarkable effort. Music by Shantanu Moitra takes the story forward with flamboyance. There is no place for songs but the background music works very well.
With a runtime of 130 minutes, Madras Cafe is richly presented and the cinematography by Kamaljeet Negi lifts the narration.
A special mention for the production design by Vinod Kumar, who crafts the locations and sets stunningly. The VFX is impeccable and adds value to the already top-notch film. Editing by Chandrashekhar Prajapati is flawless. Each character is very close to reality and does justice to their parts. Full credit to the casting director Jogi.
Performance-wise, John Abraham balances his character perfectly and is in top form. He impresses with his appetite for playing his part with conviction and swiftness. This is John Abraham’s best work to date. Nargis Fakhri suits her part like a hand in a glove and does full justice to it. Debutante Rashi Khanna is fantastic and emotes wonderfully. She is a welcome addition to the pool of talented actresses. Siddhartha Basu suits his character sketch very well and plays his part with panache. Prakash Belawadi outshines. Sanjay Gurbaxani as the prime minister is brilliant. The rest of the cast, from Ajay Ratnam to Kannan Arunachalam and Piyush Pandey, support well.
Verdict: Don’t miss it. It’s a must watch!