SRIMOYEE TAMULI PHUKAN reviews the film Madras Cafe
They say the real testimony to the genius of a Director is his second film. When a Director’s creative vision is off-loaded in the first one, and it garners rave reactions, the challenge is to live up to the expectations from the second film. And the task at hand is not just to up the game but also to not get repetitive or predictable, not fall for the tried and tested formula. And don’t we have a long list of second attempts which have taken the battered road or gone all wrong while trying to experiment? Take Ayan Mukherji’s second offering, Yeh Jawaani Hain Deewani, for instance, what a sham of a bigger budget film it was! I was particularly heartbroken since I savored each and every frame and line of ‘Wake up Sid’ and couldn’t have expected any less from his second or third, but it was a lesson learnt, though late, that barring a few, not every director can carry the mantle of the first film forward.
When the promos of Shoojit Sircar’s debut film, ‘Vickey Donor’ had hit the small screen, it had generated a lot of curiosity amongst cinema enthusiasts. Ayushman, the lead actor’s superlative acting coupled with Yami Gautam’s radiant face steered a lot of interest in cine-goers. And I am sure a lot of us had gone back to scenes from the film after watching it for the first time just for the sheer magic the ensemble team creates. Shoojit’s strength is his casting, distinct and well-crafted characters and his lucid narration. He keeps it simple and uncluttered and lets his characters unveil themselves during the course of the film as the story unfolds.
While ‘Vickey Donor’ dealt with sperm donation – an unconventional topic in a comic vein – shifting between the middle-class Delhi settlements, Lajpat Nagar and CR Park, his next is a political thriller set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war which ultimately led to the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. ‘Madras Café’ – the much in talk film by the John Abrahim-Shoojit Sircar team – manages to bring home the ‘futility of war’ theme powerfully and with an impact. Needless to say, the director has undergone an impressive journey from a small scaled ‘Vicley Donor’ to a much bigger canvas and theme. And the good news is he does complete justice to it.
Major Vikram, played by John Abraham (I would say his career’s best) is an Intelligence officer with the Indian army enlisted in a covert operation to broker peace in the war-torn country. Although the first half of the film demands a little settling down time with the film focusing on joining the pieces of news and high power meetings, the second half had me glued as the camera traveled from New Delhi to London to Bangkok and Kerala. But it’s to Shoojit’s credit that none of this looks clumsy or obtrusive. Even with so much happening, nowhere you lose track of things as you witness the mission failing as a result of betrayal. Nargis Fakri, who plays a war crime reporter is believable and looks rather comfortable with dialogues in English, although John’s responses to Fakri in Hindi could be distracting, as you try to keep up with the constant switch between the two languages.
Some of the highlights of the film are its casting, vignettes of the LTF camps and operations, believable dialogues and Shantanu Moitra’s apt background score that underlies the impending tragedy. Although there is no scope for the usual dash of songs in this film, a song by Papon is saved for the last after John rolls out Rabindranath Tagore’s famous poem, ‘Where the mind is without Fear.’ Looks like John-Shoojit partnership has not only done well for their films but seems to have given John’s acting career the much needed boost. I went for this film rather tentatively but would recommend that you go for it remaining assured that it won’t pull a ‘Chennai Express’ on you.