MADRAS CAFÉ: Review    No spoilers, unless you are still in the primary classes

Madras Cafe

Madras Cafe

One man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist. This statement holds equally good for Che Guevara as it does for Bhagat Singh. The question is: does it hold good for Rajiv Gandhi as much as it did for Prabhakaran? Did we do a Vietnam through our IPKF? If these names don’t ring a bell, please don’t read further or watch the movie. Spend your weekend doing the Lungi Dance, dobaraa. Others, read on…

Chennaites, please forgive the title. We have moved on from 1991, so let us move on here also rather than fighting that now its Chennai and not Madras. No, neither is the movie predominantly set in Madras nor is Café Coffee Day involved anywhere. Still the movie’s crux is seemingly Madras Café. Yes, it is. More about India – Sril Lanka politics. And you thought India-SL face-off means only Sachin-Murli !!!

We all remember our national leaders and ‘respect’ them, dead or alive. But to bring back the memories of one of the most deadly assassinations of the world’s largest democracy is a commendable effort. Shoojit Sircar does the same here. Trying his best to recreate the May 21st, 1991 Rajiv Gandhi assassination without naming the organization/s involved or the actual people involved in the story, he creates quite a good attempt, giving a much more than a helicopter view about the happening to the 1990s born, who wouldn’t be having a clue of the why, what and how it happened. Was India such a feared superpower-in-the-making that an ex-PM had to be killed to maintain chaos in the region?

With a gloomy beginning in Jaffna in Sri Lanka, where the Sinhalese fought the Tamils for years to drive them out, the movie is much more of a war and spy movie in the first half. With almost actual scene recreations, all you see is bloodshed and corpses most of the time. Then comes the political involvement: how countries try to exploit smaller, vulnerable countries for their own strategic/political benefits, how in the guise of friendship backstabbing happens and the victim finally are the common citizens. Things which happened decades ago, happens today and which will happen for decades more too! War is evil and has repercussions: whether civil or international. 9/11 led to Iraq attack, Pearl Harbour led to US entry in WWII and now this.

But who would want to know what/why/how exactly some gory things happened more than two decades ago when we all have moved on and the root cause of the entire episode is seemingly ‘wiped out’? Well, we need to know because some things shouldn’t be forgotten. The sacrifices of a select few in trying to do the better for a vast majority. And how other ‘vultures’ milk the situation. We need to remember how international politics work and how the politics of war and the economics of war affect each other.

Set perfectly in the timeline from the start where LTTE was a fledging (here known as LTF) and Prabhakaran, the LTTE hero was not a big name, the movie perfectly describes all the incidents which forced the LTTE to become for what it was feared: brutality and ruthless violence. The killings of his men, the Peace Accord which India-Sri Lanka signed, the IPKF sent and later recalled, the resignation of Rajiv Gandhi, LTTE’s fear of his coming back to power (and thus having elections and not recognizing Prabhakaran as the leader), the assassination preparation and the final occurrence are almost in sync with the reality of twenty years ago.

Reminiscent of movies like the acclaimed Roja, the to-be-forgotten Tango Charlie and other guerilla/civil war movies (or Blood Diamond, Pearl Harbour and Argo types for the Hollywood fanboys), Madras Café is a good walk down the memory lane for those who care about the most severe crisis the Indian sub-continent had faced from late-80s to mid-90s. Ethnic cleansing, similar to the one in Zimbabwe and a few other African countries, was alleged to be practiced in Sri Lanka to wipe out the LTTE. The leader Prabhakaran and his teenage son were shot dead a couple of years ago. The movie just stops short of this event but by now you have enough knowledge to debate on the economics/politics of civil war and the history of LTTE and the modus operandi of their suicides as well! And yeah, real AK-47s firing too.

In a storyline where you can’t experiment much with the facts (this is supposedly based on real incidents), the efforts need to be appreciated. But somewhere during the non-linear narration and flashback, the word ‘conspiracy’ seems to be overtold.  Once, twice, you feel curious but when it is again and again, you feel irritated especially when the suspense is as good as anyone’s guess. Yes, I know this is no Agatha Christie novel adaption but still – even Chocolate had a much better suspense. The movie could have been crafted in that manner, holding all facts tightly, such that the ‘conspiracy’ actually exists but alas, Sircar fails here. You can clearly see through what has happened and what is going to happen. I felt the efforts were totally wasted somewhere in the try to get a mirror image of the past. Some scenes are a total waste of our time, not providing any value to the story and done in a very sleepy way. The background score pumps up only in the latter half of the second half. Repeated nostalgia on why the ex-PM had to die whiffs of Congress glorification in the movie.

Nargis Fakhri’s beauty needs no introduction. Oh, acting did you say? No dude, her accent does all the acting here. As a Time war correspondent, she ‘helps’ John get the jigsaw puzzle correct. John is awesome in his role as the military-cum-RAW agent, something which I feel he is born for. But his narration avatar looks dumb. The discovery for me in this movie was not how was Rajiv Gandhi killed or where was the assassination plot cooked or that plastic explosives are not detected by metal detectors (how dumb is that!) or who was the real mastermind and beneficiary of the turmoil but was Rashi Khanna. A lovely Army housewife (lucky John), she totally charms you with her simplicity and innocence. Gorgeous in the movie, may be yes. Another Amrita Rao in the making, surely yes (for me atleast). And Prakash Belawadi as Madras RAW Desk’s Bala. Amazing acting. AMAZING.

Dumb dialogues: John enquiring about a plastic explosive which is miles away from where he is “Kya ye yahan se deactivate hoga?” 😛 😀

I am still wondering if Jayalalitha had bribed Bollywood to release two highly awaited movies in the same month with her capital’s name!!! Are elections due in Tamil Nadu 😛

Watch it for Prakash Belawadi and if you can ‘invest’ your weekend seeing dead bodies, empathizing with a spy, civil war coverage, covert operations, had interest in LTTE and keen on getting teary-eyed.

Else, as I said, do the Lungi Dance dobaraa.

3/5 only for the efforts of trying to correctly reflect one of the most important incidents for India-SL relations and Prakash’s/John’s heroism. And as I said earlier, one man’s terrorist is another man’s revolutionary. So don’t judge anything based on this movie. Conspiracy by the LTTE or was it just a puppet? The truth might never be revealed.