Movie: Madras Cafe (2013, Hindi, India)

Movie: Madras Cafe (2013, Hindi, India)

Madras Cafe is a political thriller seen through the eyes of a RAW field operative, set in the middle 1980s (through early 90s) during the ethnic struggle of Tamils in northern Sri Lanka. The movie starts with the peace accord (brokered by India) and traces the behind-the scenes events that lead to the death of the ex-Prime Miniter Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

Madras Cafe Poster

Directed byShoojit Sircar
Released inAugust 2013
GenrePolitical thriller, espionage
  • John Abraham, as Vikram Singh, a RAW field operative
  • Nargis Fakhri as Jaya Sahni, a British war correspondent of India origin (who speaks English throughout the movie)
  • Siddharth Basu as Robin Dutt, boss of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) who directs the covert operations in Sri Lanka, and mentors Vishal Singh
  • Prakash Belawadi as Bala, Major Vikram Singh’s immediate superior for the asssignement and local RAW team leader based in Jaffna
  • Rashi Khanna as Ruby Singh, wife of Vishal Singh.
Music byShantanu Moitra
Produced byJohn Abraham, Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, and Ronnie Lahiri
LanguageHindi (with a smattering of Tamil and English)
Length2 hours 10 mins

This movie, released in Aug 2013, received good reviews, but did not last long in theatres – its box-office performance is reported to be “average”.

The Plot

The movie starts with the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord in 1987 aimed to end the Sri Lankan civil war between militant Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists rebels (such as the LTTE) and the Sri Lankan military.

The peace accord is violated and the IPKF (Indian Peace Keeping Force) is brutally attacked by the Tamil rebels (who were supposed to be protected by the IPKF). The Indian government attempts to salvage the situation by trying to manipulate various factions of the Tamil rebels, to ensure that the less brutal factions win the planned provincial elections, and continue to be on India’s side.

Major Vishal Singh (played by John Abraham), an army officer, who is also a RAW intelligence field officer, arrives in northern Sri Lanka and joins the team of spooks led by Bala (Prakash Belawadi).

The rest is a tense and engrossing story of bungling, treachery, and everyone being suspected of trecheary. The bosses in Delhi are often clueless and seem to substitute well-formed startegies with duct-tape, reactive solutions (If this jugaad was successful, it would have been peddled as visionary strategy, and would be used by the management institutes as a case -study :-)). In the process, Vishal also suffers a personal loss.

Anyway, most of us know the history: Sri Lanka continued to be in the civil war mode through the 90s; the IPKF went back to India licking their wounds; and Rajiv Gandhi was assasinated in a terrorist attack sponsored by one of the Sri Lankan Tamil rebel factions (LTTE).

Watchable Political Thriller/ Espionage Movie

The movie is taut, engrossing and eminently watchable. John Abraham in the lead role is competent. Nargis Fakhri, who plays a war correspondent, is unconvincing and stereotyped (type-writer tapping, with a cigarette dangling from one side of her mouth). I was delighted to see Siddharth Basu (ex TV Quizmaster) in the role of a RAW boss.

There are no songs, and very little of romance and that sort of thing – it is just an out-and-out spy movie/ political thriller.

There are some things that baffled me – why are the names of some people, organizations and places masked (e.g., Rajiv Gandhi, V Prabhakarn, LTTE, Sriperumbudur) and some are not (e.g., Sri Lanka, Jaffna, IPKF, RAW). Did the makers think that LTTE would take them to court? Even with the masking, I cannot think of V Prabhakaran as “Anna Bhaskaran”. Also, the reasons for Vishal going to seed (heavy drinking) are unclear, since he remains level-headed even after the failure of mission(s) and a personal loss. And his eventual coming out from his black hole is also unconvincing (a visit to a church seems to do the trick).

The Tamil spoken in the movie sounded more like what one hears in Chennai than in Sri Lanka (in this I may be mistaken, since I don’t know Tamil that well, nor have I been in Sri Lanka long enough).

I saw the movie on a DVD/ VCD without the commercial breaks, and I think that is a good way to watch this movie (having breaks may create problems in keeping up with the plot).

The movie is just over 2 hours – and that is a big plus.

Here is a trailer:

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Your comments are welcome!

Author: Rajesh Naik

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