Director: Shoojit Sircar
Writers: Somnath Dey, Shubendu Bhattacharya, Juhi Chaturvedi(dialogues)
Cinematography: Kamaljeet Negi
Editing: Chandrashekhar Prajapati
Starring: John Abraham, Prakash Belawadi, Nargis Fakhri, Rashi Khanna, Siddharth Basu
Music: Shantanu Moitra
Running time: 130 minutes
Budget: INR 35 crore
Revenues: Hopefully more than Chennai Express
Let it be known up front that I give this movie a rating of 5/5. This, simply put, is world class film-making.
Shoojit Sircar's Madras Cafe is a political espionage thriller set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War. It opens with an almost unrecognizable John Abraham, lumbering his way to Church, to confess that he could have prevented the assassination of India's Ex-PM (modelled on Rajiv Gandhi). Narrated by him, the film's first half does a fantastic job of getting the audience familiar with the two warring parties, the Tamil guerilla forces of the LTF, headed by Anna (Ajay Rathnam) and the Sri Lankan government/army comprising the Sinhalese people. Central to the story is India's role in trying to ensure a peaceful end to the strife, in the form of political elections. We find out how Major Vikram Singh (John Abraham) was appointed by the Indian intelligence agency R&AW to head its covert operations in Jaffna (a small island to the north of SriLanka, and the base of the LTF).
Vikram's meeting with his superior, the alcohol guzzling Bala (Kannada actor and director, Prakash Belawadi in a superb supporting act), is where the film turns it on, with Vikram being forced to take shots in the dark, unable to tell who's on his side and who isn't. R&AW, in its attempt to ensure an election, tries multiple strategies to dethrone the idealistic Anna, who rejects the idea of an election, believing that the army would swiftly eliminate his Tamil people, once the Indian authorities pull out. Parallel to this strife, Vikram's meetings* with British Journalist Jaya (a thankfully, solely English-speaking Nargis Fakhri) lead them to a massive conspiracy being hatched by international players and the LTF, complete with traitors cutting backroom deals at Madras Cafe, encrypted messages, and large sums of money to seal the deal.
While the first half focuses on the Sri Lankan civil war, the second half is all about the plot to assassinate the Ex-PM. Although you already know that this story does not have a happy ending, the unnerving pace with which the events unfold grips you till the very end. Saying anything more about the second half would probably ruin some of the magic for you. In the end, the film makes it clear that there are no winners in war, just innocent civilians caught in crossfire.
The cinematic beauty and tenderness with which the scenes depicting war and bloodshed are shot is reminiscent of Blood Diamond. There are absolutely no extra scenes in the entire movie.** It simply moves from one brilliant sequence to the next. Hats off to the phenomenal editing and cinematography for giving us 130 minutes of sheer brilliant story telling and visuals.
The actors all do a fine job, with John Abraham displaying remarkable depth in this role. A few of us noted a subtle South Indian touch to his accent, and kudos to him if it was intentional. Nargis Fakhri, slips into her small yet important role of a determined, wartime journalist (her minimalistic look accentuates her beauty). The unconventional casting of Siddharth Basu (more famous for his TV Quiz shows like KBC) as R&AW chief Robin Dutt works really well. So does Rashi Khanna as Vikram's wife Ruby, as she battles with her fears for her husband's safety.
So, stop wasting time and go catch this ASAP in a theatre near you. The teasers before the movie (Zanjeer and Boss) and during the intermission (Phata Poster Nikla Hero) will go on to reinforce just how amazing and different a film Madras Cafe is.
* Big shout out to the writers for resisting the temptation to let two of the most gorgeous people on the planet engage in a hot and intense one night stand, as they keep the relationship between Vikram and Jaya strictly professional and friendly.
**While some believe the 'blink-and-you-miss-it' love scene between Vikram and Ruby was unnecessary, I thought that it was the most likely thing that would have happened in a similar situation in a normal household. Also, can you blame innocent Ruby for wanting some action, when she rarely ever gets her hunk to herself?