Amidst a lot of controversies and protests ‘Madras Cafe’ opened today with a lot of speculation. The film is Bollywood’s attempt at political thriller, and director Shoojit Sircar has not disappointed.
John Abraham plays an Indian Army special officer- Vikram Singh, appointed as a RAW agent, who is posted in a civil war stricken Sri Lanka of the late 80s and early 90s. While Nargis Fakhri is a foreign war correspondent from Britain, Rashi Khanna plays Vikram’s wife who struggles with her emotions and worries about Vikram.
The first thing that strikes you about ‘Madras Cafe’ is it’s no nonsense cinematography. In an age of loud action sequences a la Rohit Shetty genre, the extremely subtle sequences have been shot with élan by Kamaljeet Negi. He has made sure that the movie does not lose focus from the gritty and serious tone that it has been shot with, right from the first scene. The visuals are beautifully rendered although they do remind you of the Hollywood drama ‘Blood Diamond’ more than once.
The action shots are aggressive enough to show the devastation that Sri Lanka faced during those years of struggle between the state and the Tamils, but they never become gruelling or cringe inducing. The dialogues by Juhi Chaturvedi are also clean, steering clear of the notion that serious cinema in India needs abusive language to be accepted just so. The only peeve I had with the movie was Nargis Fakhri responding in English to a Hindi speaking John. And that does throw you off sounding rather silly at times.
The story line lacks the melodrama that one often associates with Bollywood. And this works in the film’s favour, but John Abraham could have had a better control over some emotional parts of the movie. The narration of the movie could have also been done away with as the screenplay was self explanatory and it only made the movie slightly longer. An Irrfan Khan, Abhay Deol or Ajay Devgn could have probably done more justice to the role while not taking away the star power from the motion picture.
Rashi Khanna’s role as Vikram Singh’s wife is also linear and one-dimensional, and does not allow any moving space for the young actress to prove her prowess.
On the other hand, the casting director should also be lauded at this point, as all the supporting artists were carefully chosen and suited the roles to the T. Actor Prakash Belawadi plays Bala in a small albeit powerful role.
The background score is not overpowering either and the only song in the movie is towards the end, which does not dilute the cinema experience. Shantanu Moitra has done a pretty good job by providing the right kind of soundtracks for the drama as well as action parts.
The stylist of the movie has also played down the glamour bit B -Town is associated with. Keeping in mind the time and place the movie has been set in, it is complete with checked shirts, lungis, veshtis, and printed salwar kameez. Nargis has also been styles sans make up and clean cut shirts and trousers throughout the movie.
The second half of the movie moves surprisingly fast and the plot that was just set in the first half unravels rapidly. The research is well done about the events, but it lacks in the army, intelligence and political protocols. Although it was not half as bad as they are portrayed in other movies in Bollywood.
The movie, the storyline taut, however is still ripe with unnecessary scenes that could have been edited out. Some of the links could have been focussed more upon while others have been repeated a little more than needed. The storyline moves fast but it seems that Sircar doesn’t trust the audience to follow details that he has inserted again and again to explain how two plus two is four. The movie begins with describing how the assassination was a grand conspiracy, but it was downplayed a bit too much for keeping the pace but the thriller suffers due to that.
Despite small flaws, ‘Madras Cafe’ is a definite step forward for Bollywood, as the genre has not been worked with before. The movie works in various ways depicting human suffering for the lack of political empathy. It also strides ahead in terms of serious drama without the melodrama that Indian audiences are used to.
‘Madras Cafe’ is a must watch for those tired of hackneyed plots and over the top nonsensical dialogues and want more of powerful and impactful cinema on screen.