I found it very difficult to write this review. I clearly remember the event it describes and till date consider that death to be in many ways the death of hope and progress for India. For nothing really stabilised for us as a country since then. Would it have been different if he had lived? Yes-I strongly believe so. That’s what they saw….the conspirators and did him in. But let’s discuss this another time.
Madras Cafe is set in the late eighties and early nineties, against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War involving the LTF (LTTE) and the forces sent by the Indian Government to intervene and ensure peace. The forces are the up-front IPKF and the under-cover operations of the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing).
The Tamilians in Sri Lanka are ill-treated by the other natives and thus rises the LTF to liberate them and fight for an independent Tamil section in parts of Sri Lanka. To escape being butchered en-masse, droves of Tamilians migrate to India and this huge migration causes some concern to the government. They or rather the Prime Minister in place then, decides to intervene, send a peace force and restore normalcy to the lives of the Tamilians in particular and the country in general. He thereby seals his fate.
For the Tamilians are not happy with what they are offered and not only reject the terms but also become a shade more deadly than they already are. The LTF are aided and abetted by unnamed western forces and the degree of fire power and technology they have at their disposal are spine chilling. Enter Major Vikram Singh of the RAW who is sent in to conduct a covert operation to counter the LTF and their Chief Bhaskaran. As he nears his goal, he is sold out by a leak in their system and his effort backfires.
He confirms his suspicions and soldiers on doggedly, helped by a war correspondent Jaya Sahni who is extremely forthright in all she says and does and encouraged by RD Sir-his chief. He stumbles upon and unfolds a chilling plan of the LTF to assassinate the Ex-PM of the country. Yes…the one who sent in the Peace forces and help the cause. They crack the codes and race against time but are too late.
Madras Cafe is the rendezvous point where arms deals, ambushes and eventually an elimination are planned…. between the LTF, A representative of the western world and a traitorous Indian. Thus the name.
The story is related in flash back by a very traumatised Major Vikram Singh, struggling to come to terms with the failure of his mission and all that he lost in life. A gripping, well executed narrative that does not falter. There are very very thankfully no songs, unnecessary comic relief or titillation. It’s a matter of fact portrayal of espionage, statecraft and politics in the real world. Well directed by Shoojit Sircar.Yes of course there are inconsistencies…..but I am not mentioning them here. They are immaterial against the overall quality of the film.
John Abraham as Major Vikram Singh certainly looks the part with his toughness. The actual emoting is a trifle below par but his rendition of “Where The Mind Is Without Fear” is poignant.
Nargis Fakhri is well suited to the role of the War Correspondent with her accent and clearly western demeanour.
Siddartha Basu as Robin Dutt, Chief of RAW is a surprise. Over emphatic in some scenes, overall he is great to watch. His presence in the film was a treat!
Ajay Ratnam as Anna Bhaskaran, Chief of the LTF is calm in his demeanour but a certain sense of purpose towards his cause and antagonism to India seep through and there is no doubt of what he feels.
Prakash Belawadi as Bala, the RAW desk in Madras does a fantastic portrayal of an alcoholic and corrupt officer, who hides under his belligerent exterior the heart of a traitor and sells his nation out.
Rashi Khanna as Ruby, Vikram’s wife is suited for the role and has acted well.
The music is largely in the background and suited. The one song….”Maula Sun Le Re” is a heartfelt appeal to the all mighty to just be heard.
The film unfolds much like a documentary, beginning with the grim realities of Sri Lanka at the time. Bodies in heaps, children crying and death and despair in every grey, grimy frame. A montage of unspeakable and unbearable violence. Every emotion-be it Ruby’s desperate loneliness, Bala’s drunken scheming, RD’s helplessness at convincing the PM to cancel his meetings and even the suicide bomber’s practice dry run get under one’s skin.
Specially the suicide bomber’s dry run.
“Back switch. Front switch”
Bend to touch feet.
Death. Despair. Destruction.
The story of the assassination of an ex-Prime Minister of India.