Political thrillers aren't really Hindi movies' favoured subject matter. Getting embroiled into unwanted hullabaloo -- before or post release of the film -- is not what a film-maker would want to get into. But Shoojit Sircar, who attempted a film on Kashmir [YAHAAN] and followed it up with a film on sperm donation and infertility [VICKY DONOR], gets into the serious zone yet again with MADRAS CAFE. An espionage thriller that's set in India, Thailand, Singapore, U.K. and Sri Lanka.
So why a title like MADRAS CAFE for a film that talks of the assassination of our former Prime Minister? Well, that's the cafe where the conspiracy was hatched, we're told. Okay, now let's move ahead...
The Hindi movie spectator has often been subjected to stories that depict the conflict with Pakistan, but Shoojit attempts to narrate a story that not many from the present generation would know -- the civil war in Sri Lanka. What transpired in the 1980s and 1990s and how it impacted the political scenario of India has never been recreated in the Hindi film space. The conflict is diverse this time around and so is the territory. In short, enlightenment takes precedence over entertainment in this case.
Final word? MADRAS CAFE is one of the finest thrillers to come out of India. No two opinions on that!
An Indian Intelligence agent, Vikram [John Abraham], is assigned the task of going to Sri Lanka for a covert operation. As he embarks upon his journey, with the intention of disrupting a rebel group, he discovers the larger issue: A conspiracy to assassinate the former Indian Prime Minister.
Shoojit Sircar takes a historical actuality and along with screenplay writers Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya weaves a captivating and compelling screenplay around it. He handles the sensitive subject matter with supreme care, prudence and sensitivity -- without being biased or opinionated. He restructures the civil war in Sri Lanka with authenticity, portraying the rebels and diplomats and also depicting India's involvement in the conflict that had ramifications on India. As a matter of fact, the storyteller tries to be as neutral as possible while narrating the tale and that's what makes the effort so credible and convincing.
Shoojit comes to the point at the very start [the opening sequence of the film prepares you about what to expect, frankly!], enveloping a number of incidents and episodes that transpired during the bygone era. The danger, the vulnerability, the helplessness, the role of the Indian government, the politics and the conspiracies... Shoojit transports you into that milieu and environment with conviction. The sequences that lead to the hair-raising finale and the impactful winding up astonishes you beyond words.
What also needs to be highlighted is the fact that the Hindi movie spectator is used to a lot of spoon feeding, which discourages independent thought, but Shoojit abstains from indulging in it. The intention of the film-maker is very evident that the spectator form his/her own estimation, which seems most appropriate in this case. Additionally, Shoojit deserves brownie points for thinking beyond the stereotype, especially since he doesn't repeat himself after the immensely successful and likeable VICKY DONOR.
The film is devoid of songs, except for the lone track that comes towards the conclusion, which is absolutely fine. The background score [Shantanu Moitra] is terrific. Shunning away from gravity-defying stunts, the action director also keeps the action as bona fide as possible. The DoP [Kamaljeet Negi] captures the ambiance and the picturesque locales splendidly. Dialogue [Juhi Chaturvedi] are intelligent, piercing and poignant.
John Abraham has often been labelled a director's actor and Shoojit makes sure he doesn't let the actor's strong persona overpower the challenging opportunity of depicting a law protector. John too surrenders himself completely to the director's vision and though he doesn't play the conventional hero, he does make an earnest effort to look the part he's portraying. Post ROCKSTAR, Nargis Fakhri gets yet another stellar role [of a war correspondent] and I must add, she takes rapid strides as an actor.
It's a treat watching Siddhartha Basu [as Robin Dutt] in a challenging role. He's fantastic. So is Dibang, who is damn impressive in a cameo. Prakash Belawadi [as Bala] is another actor who leaves a super impression. He's first-rate. Ajay Ratnam [as Anna] gives a good account of himself. Raashi Khanna is efficient as John's wife Ruby. Piyush Pandey is appropriate. Sanjay Gurbaxani as the former Prime Minister is apt. Kannan Arunachalam [as Shri] is perfect.
On the whole, MADRAS CAFE is an earnest and honest effort, a terrific thriller, with several poignant moments and episodes that leave a stunning impact. It's a film that you should watch because it gives you an insight into an exceptionally pertinent episode of history. If you are in the frame of mind to watch superior quality, sensible cinema, I would strongly recommend MADRAS CAFE to you. Try not to miss it!