No war is won on fair grounds ever. Dirty politics, power play and the mass killing of innocent people are the remnants of every war ever fought on the face of this planet. Each time a side wins, a mother loses her son, a wife her husband, and a child her father. A nation wins while mankind loses.
And before I wander onto the philosophy of war, let me pull myself back in into the realm of celluloid war – The ones that are recreated painfully after years of research and camouflaged for a wider social acceptance, the ones that win the big awards and critical acclaim, the ones that leave you lingering with the futility of it all.
Madras Cafe is one such film that makes a courageous foray into new ground in Indian cinema. Yet it stops short of using ‘real’ names!
Brilliantly directed by Shoojit Sircar of Vicky Donor fame, Madras Cafe is a thriller set against the civil war ravaging Sri Lanka in the late 80s and early 90s, and the political interference by India leading to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. John Abraham, the lead actor and one of the producers of the film, plays Major Vikram Singh, a military officer who is sent to Jaffna to head RAW’s (Research and Analysis Wing) covert operations. Nargis Fakhri plays Jaya Sahni, a British war correspondent who eventually helps him ‘see’ the even more sinister plan being hatched underneath the covert operations.
The two names might seem out of place when taken in the same sentence as Shoojit Sircar. But then, there are exceptions. John is not his usual bulky self and has managed a real portrayal of the wrath and pain of Major Vikram Singh. Moreover, his body language did some talking too in this movie. Nargis, on her part, has played a very believable Jaya. An almost right fit for her accent!
Actors in other key roles also shine through in their performances. Interestingly, most of them are journalists, and prominent people from the media. Remember Siddharth Basu, the quiz master from Mastermind? He plays Robin Dutt (RD) who leads the covert operations for RAW and the one Vikram Singh reports to in India. There is ad man Piyush Pandey playing a role as the Cabinet Secretary of India. Prakash Belawadi, a journalist and an award-winning theatre personality, has enacted a brilliant two-faced Bala, the one whom Vikram Singh reports to in Jaffna. Managing Editor of NDTV India, Dibang, plays a small but vital role as an ex-intelligence officer of RAW.
Apart from Nargis, there are two women whose screen presence is worth noting. Newcomer Rashi Khanna as John’s wife, belies the fact that this is her first movie. Malayalam actress, Leena Maria Paul as the Tamil rebel gives a memorable performance too.
Madras Cafe also excels in its ability to build suspense, even though the viewer is aware of the outcome. This can only be attributed to the writers – Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya. An interesting bit of trivia for you is that the script for the movie has been in waiting since 2006. Sircar had narrated the script of Madras Cafe to John in that year, but they could not get around to begin it then.
True to the nature of the film, there are no song and dance numbers. And to my relief, there is no item number by Nargis too! Brilliant background music by Shantanu Moitra sits well with a “political espionage thriller” movie genre and does manage to enhance the scenes as per the mood. ‘Sun le re‘ sung by Papon is a beautiful, earthy number – the kinds that go into your playlists. Besides, look at any scene from the movie and you will know that the cinematography and editing are done by perfectionists.
Despite intercepting and decoding correctly, Major Vikram Singh is unable to stop the inevitable assassination. You know it yet you wait and watch anxiously trusting the storyteller to bring in a new twist! A must watch for lovers of intelligent cinema.