Madras Cafe is a political thriller set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civilian war, and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi (referred to in the film only as “Ex-PM”). Vikram Singh (John Abraham) is sent to Jaffna, where he is supposed to track down the leader of fictional rebel group LTF (based on LTTE), and tempt his right-hand man into going against him. While there, Vikram meets international journalist Jaya (Nargis Fakhri), and he begins to realize that there are bigger issues at play.
Most of the releases this month have been complete Bollywood masala flicks, but Madras Cafe is startlingly different. Here are 5 ways how.
Mild spoilers ahead!
1. There’s no “suspense.” It’s a thriller, which generally means that there’s supposed to be some sort of uncertainty involved. But you know how it’s going to end, because John Abraham’s character says it within the first five minutes (the film unfolds as a flashback). The focus then shifts to how the events unfold and connects the dots from Point A to Point B, which, within the context of this film, works very well. There are a lot of layers to uncover, and this gives us the opportunity to explore them.
2. There’s no happy ending or any real resolution. Bollywood thrives on tying things up neatly with a nice little bow, but Madras Cafe lets it hang as is. You know how the story of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination ends (complete with loose ends), and thankfully director Shoojit Sircar doesn’t attempt to gloss over it, or glorify his protagonist in any way just for the purposes of commercialising his film.
3. It’s a restrained movie. It must be difficult to not overdo a film like this, but the team manages to keep everything in check. There are a scenes of violence, but there’s no unnecessary gore, and the makers restrained from any gimmickry just to make it more gritty. It’s a tough balance to achieve, but Madras Cafe does just fine. Everything is dramatised just enough, but doesn’t go over-the-top.
4. There are no songs! Oh, praise the Lord. In general, I do believe that songs have their place in Bollywood movies, but a film like this definitely didn’t need any songs to break up the pace. The makers very wisely left them all out – you hear Sun Le Re in the film, but it’s right at the very end and only in the background, so it works.
5. The movie avoids the ‘good vs bad’ conflict. It sets out to tell the story of a chain of events, and does just that, without getting into the business of taking sides. In fact, towards the end, John’s character notes that no winner emerged from the whole ordeal – and he even makes mention of the fact that “one’s man terrorist is another man’s revolutionary.”
All in all, Madras Cafe is a worthy watch this weekend, if only because of how different it is from your regular Bollywood spectacle. It features some great performances too. John Abraham clearly believes in this film, and it’s obvious in his acting. Nargis Fakhri does well, and shows that she can be much more than what we saw from her Rockstar performance. The rest of the cast though, are the real show-stealers – they all deliver fabulous performances, and John deserves props for giving them their space to perform. We can think of plenty other stars who tend to hog the limelight. 3.5 Stars!