Madras Cafe : Decaffeinated Coffee
Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri
Director: Shoojit Sircar
Barring a few, War films in Bollywood usually have a typical over the top melodramatic treatment. Often the movie makers try to play to the gallery with the patriotic card. However, hollywood have many quality war movies with underplayed narrative style. Madras Cafe is such a movie from hindi film industry which raises the bar of movie making in India.
The movie is based on civil war in Srilanka in the 1980’s and 1990’s. The era which witnessed struggle for resources between Srilankan’s Tamils and Sinhalese (two ethnic groups in Srilanka) converted into full blown civil war due to the demand for separate state “Tamil Eelam” by LTTE (named as LTF in movie). It uses the civil war as backdrop while taking creative and cinematic liberties to present a story which will intrigue the audience throughout the movie.
The movie revolves around Indian Intelligence agent from RAW, Vikarm ( played by co-producer John Abraham ), who is assigned a job to make sure that the scheduled elections in Srilanka (which are part of a peace processes initiated by the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi) get peacefully executed. He has given specific mission to weaken the powerful separatist militant group LTF by hook or crook with the help of a officer, Bala who is already posted in Jaffna. Through his initial attempts which fail to achieve his goals, Vikram realizes that there is much more to the game than the brief he got about it. He gets involved in a bigger plot drawn by global players to secure their own interests in this part of the world. Eventually it leads him to the conspiracy and unfortunate event of assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Thus the film presents a narrative of Srilankan Civil war, India’s intervention in it and its eventual aftermath in a big budget action movie format.
Sujit Sircar and writers Subhendhu Bhattacharya, Somnath Dey and Juhi Chaturvedi join hands together to create a taught screenplay with a linear narrative (even though it gets revealed in series of flashbacks). They have purposefully chosen to downplay the violence and aggressive patriotic fervor. Even though the story has many events where they could have been little more dramatic but they did not choose to manipulate them. They stuck to the docudrama style narrative which builds exponentially and gets the audience involved slowly in the happenings. This is what makes this movie unique and worth a watch.
The efforts put in by the writing team in screenplay gets a boost as Sujit Sircar takes up the mantle as a Director and gives complete justice to the screenplay. He keeps the simplicity quotient alive as he unfolds the story visually on screen. However, with the help of his DOP ie Director Of Photography, Sircar succeeds in getting the look of a big budget, big canvas movie. The denatured color palette used in the color scheme of the movie continues the underplay factor in screenplay and directive style further. It also adds an International look to the movie. Along with the writer, director and DOP, film editor Chandrashekhar Prajapati deserves credit for cutting the crap and focusing on what is necessary to transcend the vision of the director on screen.
Madras Cafe has a strong support from its ensemble cast. Casting director Jogi goes out of the usual list of supporting cast and gets on board few unusual faces like Siddhartha Basu, as Vikram’s boss RD, and Prakash Belawadi, who plays Bala. For me first half is salvaged due to the performance given by Prakash Belawadi. Quizman Siddhartha Basu impresses and proves that he is a natural in front of the camera. Apart from that John delivers the job he is given to play. Though I am not sure if I can praise him for his job. I am unimpressed by Nargis Fakhri who plays Indian-American Journalist Jaya who is friend of Vikram in the movie. Though she was written off as a non actor by many in her debut movie “RockStar”, I thought she was good in that movie. Despite the PR machinery using that story to get media space by claims of Sujit Sircar that Madras Cafe will be a relaunch movie for Nargis and it will get her noticed, she is strictly OK in the movie. Funny are the scenes with Vikram where she talks in English and he in Hindi. Why can’t he just reply her in english or vice versa? I found their scenes as kind of unsuccessful attempts to look cool. It did not work out. Everyone else ably supported the film through good performances.
Movie has no songs which is great as no one feels a need for it. Background score by Shantanu Moitra is apt. John Abraham as a producer needs a big pat on his back and needs to be applauded to support such project whole heartedly. The production value of the film is impeccable. Visual Effects, Color Correction and DI by Prasad EFX is of high quality.
This is movie needs right kind of audience to watch it in theater and I fortunately had same. Though the movie has lukewarm response and only 4-5 rows at the back (higher ticket price rows) were filled, I thought it reached to its correct audience. I do not think if it converts well in terms of money but the movie will do good in multiplexes. It will also be good for TV/DVD viewing. Madras Cafe is meant for such audience who like underplayed docudramas.
However for me it was like a decaffeinated coffee. It would have not harmed if the characters would have connected emotionally more with the audience. A pinch of humor here and there would be a great help too. Not for the sake of comparison but just to give an example, if you remember Kahani also had an underplayed and realistic treatment. But it had higher entertainment quotient with the help of humor and emotional connectivity. Lack of it masks Madras Cafe dry and drab story telling. Though second half makes for it and intrigues clients into the assassination conspiracy. It made the film paisa wasool for me. And I will suggest you also see it.
Recommendation: For the lover of sensible cinema, it is a must watch. It is high quality cinema to come out of Bollywood.
Do watch if you like decaffeinated coffee. I like my coffee Strong! 🙂
Review by Prashen Kyawal