Madras Café: An Unusual Thriller

Madras Café: An Unusual Thriller

If Shah Rukh Khan-Deepika Padukone starrer ‘Chennai Express’ (released on Aug 8, 2013) has utterly disappointed you than the unconventional ‘Madras Café’ (released on Aug 23, 2013) will surely provide you with some quality and reasonable cinema.


Director Shoojit Sircar, famous for films like Yahaan and Vicky Donor, endeavored to revolutionize the Indian cinematic world with an unusual political, spy, suspense thriller. He selected an entirely different and unique subject – the assassination of a former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.


Without disturbing the essence of the subject, Sircar has intertwined a little bit fiction into the historical incidents, and creatively avoided to be biased or over-sensitive. This sort of fusion made his film an enjoyable experience.


Although it is apparent that vast research was undertaken by the director Sircar and producer John Abraham, much of the plot is fiction and inspired by actual historical events, for instance, the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka under the consent of Indo-Sri Lankan Accord (1987) to neutralize the Tamil nationalists. Following Rajiv Gandhi’s defeat in 1989’s elections; new PM V. P. Singh ordered the pullout of IPKF, which was completed in 1990. Ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi, who signed the accord to send IPKF, was assassinated by a woman suicide bomber during an election campaign in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991.




Set against this backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war and Indian political upheaval of late 80s and early 90s, Madras Café outlines the histories of the two neighbours and actions of Indian intelligence agency R&AW from the perspective of an Indian army officer Major Vikram (John Abraham) who was conducting covert operations in Jaffna after the withdrawal of IPKF. There he meets a foreign war journalist Jaya (Nargis Fakhri) who was finding the reality of the civil war. Vikram also exposes a conspiracy to assassinate Ex-PM of India.


The nicely-connected incidents as well as swirling puzzles will not permit you to loose concentration from the tenacious, gloomy and subdued tone of the movie. The script played a vital role in holding the gigantic and challenging representation without noticeable blemishes. Major events and all names have been changed in order to avoid hullabaloo, which is of no use as spectators can recognize the real occurrences. The first half moves in a detailed manner while the second half in a typical thrilling style, moves very quickly.



Kamaljeet Negi’s cinematography, special effects and art direction is skillfully portrayed; however, numerous scenes will remind you the camera work and warfare scenarios of various Hollywood movies. Nonetheless, Sircar seemed at his best to control the fast pace and quick jumps of the film from one site in Sri Lank to another one in India and to other foreign locations.


As far as the performance is concerned, the big cast is handled brilliantly by Sircar. John Abraham tried to portray a disturbed, gloomy and helpless angry-man with some maturity, but it could have been done with a lot of better emotional expressions and body language. Nargis Fakhri looks subtle in a small role and appears as fresh breath in the midst of high-pitched drama. Rashi Khanna’s role as John’s wife, doesn’t add any significant dimension except it was a slight shadow of melodrama.



Madras Cafe has an unconventional soundtrack which is appropriate with the rhythm of the movie. Composer Shantanu Moitra followed the main theme in accordance with the script.


The film lacks in certain areas. Such as, at the start, a grand conspiracy was introduced as the focal point, but as the movie progresses, the focal point shifts to other events. Eventually the thrilling story diverts to something else leaving behind the conspiracy. Likewise, there is no explanation for “the main events that changed the political history of India”. There are too many flashbacks that spoil the continuity, moreover the film lacks sensational tinge towards the ending.


Similarly, Fakhri’s English dialogues in response to John’s Hindi dialogues are quite perplexing for me. Why she is responding in English when she can understand Hindi? – only Sircar can tell us the mystery behind it.


Overall, the politics, rebellion, espionage, human-tragedy, suspense and nicely handled narrative are examples of commendable exertion and a sincere effort by Shoojit Sircar. If you neglect minor flaws, Madras Café is a must-watch.


It stands distant from the run-of-the-mill Bollywood underground gangs/bhai-log thrillers. John Abraham’s Madras Cafe is not suitable for Masala film fans, as it provides an exceptionally serious drama with political twists.


Verdict 6/10


Tanveer Khadim

a freelance writer and blogger

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