3.5 Very Good

An interesting wave is going on in Bollywood where all types of films are being made. While there’s a re-emergence of massy entertainers and herogiri masala films, there has also emerged a splurge of what is generally termed as arthouse, serious and parallel cinema. What’s more, films belonging to the latter category are getting thumbs up from audiences and many such films have succeeded commercially at the box office. Madras Cafe, featuring John Abraham as the actor and producer, too belongs to this genre. At the face of it, it’s a political spy thriller-cum-action drama. But it doesn’t boast of the typical ‘commercial’ elements and it clearly does not conform to the unwritten rules that film after film is bound to adhere to. In short, it’s an exceptional flick!

The story of the movie: Vikram Singh (John Abraham) is an Indian intelligence agent who is assigned a risky covert operation in the crisis-stricken Sri Lanka in the late 1980s/beginning of 1990s. He is given a three point agenda with the final motive to overthrow the dreaded rebel leader Anna Bhaskaran (Ajay Ratnam). Sadly, things don’t go as planned and Vikram faces resistance and threat to his life and his family from unexpected quarters. On top of it, he discovers a conspiracy that would have far-off repercussions – assassinating the ex-Prime Minister (Sanjay Gurbaxani) of India.

Director Shoojit Sircar makes it clear at the very onset that he will narrate the tale the way he wants to and that he would not compromise even a bit. Hence, the characters don’t break into songs. Even the songs relegated to background are absent (except for Sun Le Re), possibly to keep the realistic levels up. Moreover, the focus remains on the story and conspiracy and film doesn’t deviate even for a moment. The first half doles out too much of information and many characters are introduced. This might get heavy at one point. Moreover, few scenes seemed too quick which could have been avoided as there’s so much happening in the film every moment that one wishes things slow down slightly.

Thankfully, things get better in the second half. This is the juncture where things begin to make sense. The tension levels go skyhigh and here’s where the film rocks! The climax moves the viewers. The beauty at this point is one knows what’s going to happen in the end from the beginning of the film! Taking this aspect into account, the makers could have messed up as it’s a risk in trying to narrate a tale to the viewer’s where they know how it’s going to end! But thankfully, the film is so well-etched and narrated that one looks forward to seeing what happens next despite knowing the end result!

Madras Cafe features some talented and relatively unknown names besides John and Nargis and all of them have put in their best. John Abraham transforms himself and sheds his larger-than-life persona effortlessly. Moreover, John’s characterization is brilliantly done. He’s not larger-than-life and faces failure and disappointments too. He’s phenomenal in few scenes…see it to believe it! This is easily one of the finest performances from John that’ll be remembered for years! Also, hats off for producing a film of this league. Nargis Fakhri (Jaya) was the best choice to play half-British character. She was written off in Rockstar but would surely find respect for her performance in this film. Raashi Khanna (Ruby) has a significant character to essay and does great. She’s quite cute too!

From the supporting cast, the one who leaves maximum mark, somehow, is Sanjay Gurbaxani. He has a strong resemblance to Rajiv Gandhi and leaves a deep impact as a result. Quizmaster Siddhartha Basu (RD, RAW Chief) proves his worth as an actor. Terrific! Same goes for Prakash Belawadi (Bala). Ajay Ratnam does fine. Kannan Arunachalam (Shree) looks menacing. The others who leave a mark are Piyush Pandey (Cabinet Secretary), Dibang (Vikram’s confidante in Bangkok), Avijit Dutt (RD’s second-in-command) and the actors who play Vasu, Malaya and the suicide bomber.

Shantanu Moitra’s music works big time in Madras Cafe. Sun Le Re is stunningly haunting and same goes for Madras Cafe Theme. Background score enhances impact. Kamaljeet Negi’s cinematography is gritty and raw, keeping with the mood of the film. Manohar Kumar’s action is quite real but rightfully stands one step short of getting too gory. Vinod Kumar’s production design is authentic. Same goes for location though not a frame is shot in Sri Lanka. This brings me to the entire production team: hats off for shooting in some difficult scenes (even abroad) and yet keeping the budget in check!

Juhi Chaturvedi’s dialogues are as true as it can be. Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya’s screenplay is taut and fast-paced. Shoojit Sircar’s direction is fair and apt for a film like this. In fact, it’s one of the most difficult films to be made. As far as I know, no Bollywood film has ever attempted to make something like this. The research by the director is topnotch and it shows. At the same time, he has been objective and hasn’t raised fingers at any group or organization. The film goes slightly into the documentary zone in the beginning portions but that’s fine as it gets woven into the narrative. Shoojit keeps his best for the second half where the tension levels go on an all-time high. On the flipside, the first half gets a bit uninteresting as too much information is placed in front of the viewers. While watching, one might not mind but as the film sinks, this turns out to be a big shortcoming. Nevertheless, a brilliant effort!

On the whole and simply put, Madras Cafe is an exceptional flick! A political spy thriller cum action fare, Madras Cafe doesn’t boast of the so-called commercial elements. It gets into documentary zone at times and first half gets too heavy thanks to the introduction of too many characters and too much happening in the film. Things however settle down in the second half and film gets immensely intriguing and impressive at this point. Climax is completely worth it. Hats off to director Shoojit Sircar and producer John Abraham for not keeping the ‘commercial’ elements in mind while envisaging the film. The result: Madras Cafe is unlike anything you have seen in Bollywood! Hope it has a positive word of mouth because that’s the only way this film will find its audience. Go for it guys so that well-made and intentioned films like these don’t go unnoticed!