Madras Cafe (2013) – Review

by Ruby Chingu

Image Rating: 9/10 (An excellent political thriller!)

Directed by: Shoojit Sircar

Starring: John Abraham as Major Vikram Singh, Nargis Fakhri as Jaya Sahni, Ajay Rathnam as Anna Bashkaran

Plot: Madras Cafe revolves around the role of Indian government in the civil war crisis in Sri Lankan between the ruling government and the Tamil Tigers, who fought for an independent Tamil state. Vikram of the Indian Army, an intelligence officer had been assigned for a mission in Sri Lanka. He was confronted with the complex political situations there, particularly the one involving the top leaderships of the Tamil Tigers consisting of Anna Bashkaran, its charismatic leader and his commanders. He received assistance from a tough London-based war correspondent, Jaya, who gave him access to her networking. Soon, his involvement with the intrigue cost him the most important thing in his life and India its leader.

Review: I came across this excellent film one day when Palah told me a new film starring Nargis Fakhri that I should really check out. I first saw her in Rockstar (2011) and somehow, beneath that pouting character and dubbed voice, I find her to be a good actress. She has that strong elegant look in her face and no one can deny that she’s really pretty. However, she could not speak Hindi and that limits her acting range. My anxiety disappeared once I discovered that she spoke full English in Madras Cafe, a language she was familiar with.

Madras Cafe owes its superb quality to its fast pace, riveting performances from its casts and the sensitive nature of the subject matter. I was not bored for one single second while watching the film. The story first focused on the terrible situation of the Tamil citizens in Sri Lanka, the rebel acts of the Tamil Tigers against the government in defending their rights to the repercussion of the violence from both sides. The ones to suffer the most in an armed conflict is, as always, the innocent citizens.

ImageThen, we were directed towards the role of one particular officer in the conflict, the up and rising Major Vikram Singh, who, at first, seemed to have a big potential. John as Vikram Singh was brawny, smart and confident. His confidence persuaded us to believe at first that he would somehow solve the political problems he was tasked with. However, as the plot unraveled, he struggled with the fact that he was quite alone amidst the fight and his helplessness was soon made obvious. May I just say – John Abraham is a great actor! What an improvement after many years in the business. He was never in my radar as I always had dubious feelings over his reputation as a sex symbol (he still is, btw) but with this film, his acting proved that I completely misjudged him. And damn, he made me swoon without having to put in an effort. Even when fully covered with an army uniform, he’s hot. And sexy. No need to expose his six packs and broad shoulders like Siddarth and Varun in Student of The Year.

ImageTo those who think Nargis can’t act, you are completely wrong. Because she played the character of a tough journalist so well in this film. I am so happy with her decision to play a character that doesn’t rely on her beauty (because like John, she’s also super hot). With her looks, she could have just played a pretty character or serve as an eye-candy in any film. However, Nargis went for substance! And that made me a fan out of her. There is a look of dedication and fearlessness in the character Jaya played by her, who would not compromise any of her impartiality in favour of political bias-ness.

ImageAnother performance, which is actually my favourite, that should be noted is Ajay Rathnam’s, who played Anna, the powerful leader of the Tamil Tigers. His acting was impeccable. He had that stern charismatic expressions that glued us to the screen. Even though most of the world had branded him a terrorist, Anna was steadfast in his conviction that the Tamil Tigers were fighting for the right cause. He believed that they were not terrorists but independence fighters seeking autonomy for their people.

His character posed us audience one important question – were the Tamil Tigers doing the right thing or vice versa?

Such is the core of the sensitive political issue surrounding this film. Looking at it from the perspective of the Sri Lankan government, the Tamil Tigers are a group of very dangerous rebels. Howwever, the Tamil Tigers believed that the government had maligned their people for such a long time with discrimination and violence. They were only retaliating against that.

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The film did a good job by presenting to us two sides of the coin, the right side by Major Vikram and the other side by Anna. Jaya, as a journalist, represents the neutral third-party view. None of this views can be absolutely correct or wrong. Each actions are relative to the situations one is in. The audience are not bound to make choices, thanks to the balance provided by multiple perspective in the film.

The sad truth is that there is no truth. There are acts and there are repercussions. There are attacks and there are defenses. Somehow, that is the way things are in a politically unstable country and a man like Vikram, who tried to do the right thing, could not possibly change anything with his one-man power.

THE ISSUE OF INTERVENTION

The film also invites the audience to ponder upon the issue of intervention. When a neighbouring country is having internal conflicts, should the government step in and intervene in a jurisdiction which is not under its purview? India, here, is trying to assist in easing the Sri Lankan civil war, resulting in the assassination of their ex-Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi (since he was the one who sent Indian officials to that island in the first place.) Some may think of it as an effort to foster peace whilst others may deem the intervention as excessive and a breach to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.

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The film ended with the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi, the ex-Prime Minister of India. Even though the character did not have many scenes in the film, its role is huge, considering he was the then-Head of Government in India. During the scenes leading up to his assassination, I felt anxious and scared and a bit sad for him. Not because I admired the man (I barely knew him historically) but because the Tamil Tigers had an elaborate secret plan on how to kill him.

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The organization was first to utilize the method of a human bomb (or suicide bomber). The bomber here was a female and disguised herself to be an attendee at Gandhi’s campaign. As she pretended to touch his feet as a sign of reverence, she detonated the bomb, killing herself, Mr Gandhi and 25 others.At that moment, no one could believe an innocent looking girl wearing a traditional dress could carry a bomb underneath her dress to fulfill her mission in killing the leader of one of the biggest country in the world. But she did. And somehow, India’s honour was severely marred with shame and ineffectiveness to protect him.

FYI, Rajiv Gandhi shared the same fate as his mother, Indira Gandhi who was assassinated during her tenure as Prime Minister. Being a member of a huge political dynasty can be a bit scary, I must say. I know they are rich and all, but man, to think that one would suicide-bomb any of your family members is unfathomable. Not the kind of stress I would want to live with.

In conclusion, Madras Cafe is a must-watch. Even if you are not into political thriller, I am sure this film will make you a fan of one. Even though it is devoid of romance between the two main leads, it is still very great. Because its excellence does not rely on delusional cutesy romantic-romantic poochie poochie shits. Madras Cafe is a serious film that will make you think and turn a bit political. The impact will stay with you after a few days, reminding you of how great the film is.

Damn, this is one fucking long review……..

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