Madras Cafe (2013) Review

Often come films that are terrible yet has its cast performing extra-ordinarily. The rare ones are where the film is superbly directed with a fine story, but let down by the cast. Madras Café is an example of the latter ones.

This espionage thriller is set in Sri Lanka during the 80s and 90s, while the country was torn in Civil War. The ethnic clash claimed number of innocent lives. The-Assassination-of-Rajiv-Gandhi-inspired incident served as the central point, around which the story is spun. When the conflict reached its zenith though rebel group of Tamil ethnicity, LTF (based on LTTE), India decided to intervene and send a peace force. This is where, our protagonist, Vikram Singh was sent to the war zone to ensure the operation of Peace Force does not fall through.

Based on this promising premise, the story moves in considerably apt pace, weaving more threads, that culminated the cloth of the grand conspiracy.  The screenplay deviated from the traditional three-act structure of storytelling; and it suited the narrative. The credit goes to director Shoojit Sircar for his relentless grasp on the film. There was barely a moment when the intensity of the film falters or the tone gets shifted.  The documentary-style depiction of war casualties helped the cause of the film.  

The two lieutenants for ‘captain’ Sircar would be Kamaljeet Negi and Shantanu Moitra. Negi’s cinematography is remarkable, making some of the frames look like work of art. Moitra’s background score set up the tone of the proceedings that were happening on the screen. For a Bollywood film, there is a scarcity of songs (read unnecessary songs), but when there is a song, it just drives home the point of the film.

On the negative side, as mentioned earlier, the cast was a letdown. That is why, it seemed, director had to compromise with the character development. Granted, an espionage political thriller does not require much of a character study. But, when your protagonist undergoes plenty of different scenarios, it should yield at least one or two not-so-similar emotions. Perhaps, John Abraham’s acting prowess forced Sircar to make his lead character a one-dimensional one. Also, the out-of-sync conversations between Nargis Fakhri (a British Journalist) and Abraham often were cringe-worthy. Having Fakhri delivering all lines in English hardly improved what she could have delivered in Hindi. The support cast, barring a decent Siddharth Basu, did not support either.

It is a well-directed, well-shot film with a very good story. Just the same cannot be said about the acting of the cast. Notwithstanding that, this is an indication that Bollywood is slowly moving towards maturity and quality after a long time. Good political thrillers are hard to come by in our industry, and this one definitely worth a watch. 



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