Madras Cafe Movie Review


Read the Exclusive Madras Cafe Movie Review by Nikhil Arora
Madras Cafe Movie Review
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Star-Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri, Raashi Khanna, Siddhartha Basu
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Director: Shoojit Sircar
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Producer: John Abraham, Ronnie Lahiri
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Duration: 2 hours 10 mins

Madras Café is a political docu-drama. This is a euphemism for films, which have a thin story and rely more on real events and its dramatization for a certain cinematic effect. As far as the documenting is concerned, Madras Café is solid. The drama is where the film falters and ultimately does not soar. The plot is in place, the execution is in place but the characters, especially the protagonist, are inert. The human element is completely shortchanged.

Madras Café is a tense procedural, which first starts chronicling the Sri Lankan Civil War and then snowballs into a conspiracy involving an assassination plot of an Indian Prime Minister. They are related events, of course. The names are changed - nobody says Prabhakaran or Rajiv Gandhi, but we know who is who. The first half of the film is quite simply – uninvolving. I was struggling to find something to connect with while watching well-executed scenes. Almost every scene has the music going “da-dum da-dum da-dum” threatening to reach a crescendo. If you don’t feel you are watching something pertinent, the music definitely feels so. The second half of the film is much more engaging. You know how the events will turn out but it is riveting to watch. It is an important film about a very important phase in recent history but unfortunately, the characters in it remain uninteresting and one-dimensional. Strange that an actor with limited range is given the task to play the lead.

There are many films Madras Café will be compared with. Films that document political procedures, conspiracies or assassinations. Like JFK (1991), The Battle of Algiers (1966) or Zero Dark Thirty (2012). Green Zone (2010) and Syriana (2005) also come to mind. While these are important films and it could be argued that they are great, I didn’t respond enthusiastically to any of them. Or let’s say I liked them as much as I could.

That being said, Zero Dark Thirty is emotionally uninvolving for a particular reason. The ending of that film is a punch in the gut and a chilling commentary, not just on political revenge, but on the kind of people who have such jobs. The lead character is decidedly hollow and governed by one motive and one motive only. Madras Café, instead, has a terrible ending. Mostly due to the ghastly framing device with a priest acting like a child who needs spoon-feeding about the protagonist’s life. At the end, we are subjected to a voice-over with Rabindranath Tagore’s Let My Country Awake. A character lamenting the state of the nation and its future while we have learnt nothing substantial about who he is. If only it ended better, I would have been championing this film.

Shoojit Sircar arrived on the map, not because of his debut Yahaan (2005), but because of a surprisingly wonderful comedy called Vicky Donor (2012). John Abraham and him do make a good team and I wish they make more films together. Nargis Fakhri surprised me since she was less annoying here than she was in Rockstar (2011). I guess hearing the actress’ real voice helps. Even if she is playing a London resident speaking in an American accent responding to every Hindi sentence in English.

All I took from Madras Café was a well-presented history lesson and deft dramatization of an assassination. For me, that is not enough but yes, it is good enough.

Overall Review Verdict: Madras Cafe is a tense film but lacks an emotional/ ideological connect
Ratings: 3/5
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