Let me get straight to the point : Madras Cafe is an ideal example of a cinema where content is treated as the king, with both John and Shoojit Sircar churning out one of the most compelling and engaging political thrillers we have seen off late. It deserves a standing ovation primarily because for exploring a subject -Sri Lankan Civil War- a territory hitertho untouched by our film makers.
Gripping yet grounded, Madras Cafe is set against the background of the ethnic crisis in SriLanka during the 80-90’s, which ultimately led to the assassination of the then Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi. The entire story unravels through the experiences of Vikram (John), a RAW officer who is entrusted with the task of surreptitiously conducting operations in Jaffna by his chief RD ( Siddhartha Basu), to break the strong nexus of Anna Bhaskaran ( Ajay Rathnam) , chief of LTF. Working along with his inebriant superior Bala (Prakash Belawadi) and a london based correspondent Jaya (Nargis),his mission unravels a web of conspiracies, deceit, and truth- which alters his life completely .
Merging facts and fiction with complete dexterity, director Shoojit Sircar unfleshes a compelling story on a highly sensitive topic, and deals it with austerity, authenticated with strong research . He sets the tone of the film right from the first frame, keeping the pace and momentum taut and trim, till the climax which is predictable , yet is superbly crafted. While the first half weaves the the grim background it sets for the erupting crisis in Lanka, its engrossing second half keeps you on the edge every minute, flourishing a complete masterstroke from the makers. But what makes the film stand out is its honest treatment to the references it takes from real events. The film never resorts to violence nor takes a specific stand to make a point, convincingly delineating the intricate political spectrum and the machinations involved. Additional brownie points for its meritorious cinematography and legitimate action scenes, elevating the film two notches higher. Shantanu Moitra’s haunting and unobtrusive music adds as a icing on the cake.
Madras Cafe serves as a platform of exceptional performances from its principal cast. John does a commendable job as a competent RAW officer, suitably mellowed down to display his anguish and helplessness. For once, you see the actor in John rather than his usual overbearing physicality, which speaks volumes of his career best performance till date.Equally good is Nargis Fakhri, who takes the daunting task of a correspondent role with proficiency. Siddharth Basu and Prakash Belawadi deliver exceptional acts, so as Dibang and the rest of the supporting cast. Special mention of the linguistic casting done based upon the film’s requirements, right from beginning till the end. Brilliant..!
Holding up the ideology that a War is Futile, and there are no winners or losers involved in the game of death, the film magnetizes and stands a winner purely based on its story,screenplay, and performances. A taut and absorbing political thriller, Madras Cafe is a true hallmark of a sensible cinema. Get off the train guys, enter Madras Cafe, to devour a dark, simmering and an absolutely riveting cup of coffee..!!!