Saturday, August 24, 2013

Madras Cafe  

Ripe and RAW

Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe works as an earnest docu-thriller, as a political expose maybe not.  But the protests against the film in Chennai only beg for more political films to be made in the country, so that people learn to accept different points of view.  Right now it’s ‘if you are not on our side, you’re dead.’  

Bollywood cinema is trying very hard to grow up, and it also means it is trying subjects that are new to Indian cinema, but very influenced by the West.  Just like India trying to be a mini-US flexing its muscle in Asia, that the film portrays, Bollywood is also trying out its own versions of international conspiracy flicks, which is why, all of a sudden the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) is getting so much prominence (CIA wannabe), whether it is in extravagant Agent Vinod format, or the fanciful D- Day or now the solemn Madras Cafe.

Sircar’s film says what is not stated loud and clear—India has no business manipulating the political scenario in neighbouring countries, unless it is prepared for bombs blowing up in its face; in the case of Sri Lanka, the assassination of the Indian leader referred to only as “Ex PM” in the film, but who doesn’t know the name?

 Oddly enough, it also seems to imply that India’s role in Sri Lanka was top secret and the “Ex PM’s” death a conspiracy that only the hero Vikram Singh (John Abraham) knows about, and the only person to whom he can reveal it is a priest in Church.  

Vikram is sent by RAW to Jaffna, the headquarters of the rebel Tamil group LTF (the LTTE in disguise), led by a ferocious Anna Bhaskaran (Ajay Ratnam) to head covert operations with a nasty local Bala RAW man (Prakash Belawadi)  waiting to trip him up.  Vikram rather ineptly tries to negotiate with a breakaway LTF faction, and the result is both embarrassing and disastrous.

He frowns, looks grim and demands information, first from a fish seller and then a war correspondent (Nargis Fakhri) who wanders around the island saying, “I must get through.” Surely this is not the way either journalists or intelligence agents operate.  Everyone seems to know that Vikram is a covert operative, still he pretends to be a journalist when he wants to meet an Anna aide.

It is sloppiness like this that erodes the sombre tone the film aims at, and manages to get right only when showing atrocities committed by both sides in Sri Lanka. The rest of the time, the plot is rushing from one location to another, vaguely hinting at the vested interests that profit from the strife in Sri Lanka, and flaunting some elementary political analysis. It does come together in the last half hour or so, when the assassination plot is discovered, but intelligence officials are unable to prevent the killing.

The cast of non professional actors like Siddhartha Basu, Piyush Pandey, Dibang, Nissar Allana and others gives the film a realistic look, but its heart is made of comic books.  It is gripping in spurts, but can’t be taken too seriously. Those who are protesting might just calm down if they saw it.


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