Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

August 23, 2013

Harsh reality

Filed under: Our FIlms — Rajeev @ 10:42 pm

August 23, 2013

Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri, Ajay Ratnam, Siddhartha Basu, Prakash Belawadi, Raashi Khanna, Piyush Pandey

Director: Shoojit Sircar

Unlike in the West, it’s hard to make films on real-life historical events in India. Political pressures and sensitive groups invariably throw a spanner in the works. Which is why it’s commendable what director Shoojit Sircar has undertaken with Madras Café. Set in the late 80s and early 90s during the civil war in Sri Lanka, the film meshes fact and fiction competently to present a dramatized account of the real-life conspiracy behind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

There’s a lot going on in this dense script (by Somnath Dey and Shubhendu Bhattacharya) which spends the first half hour or so of the film laying out the geopolitical history of the region and the times. Through voiceovers and occasionally confusing scenes, we’re provided a background to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, led by rebel group LTTE, who’re referred to as LTF in this film. We’re also told of the IPKF (or the Indian Peace Keeping Force) that was deployed to cool off the tension in Sri Lanka, but who got in the way of the LTTE. And we’re introduced to Anna (Ajay Ratnam), head of the LTF, modeled so closely after LTTE chief Prabhakaran who famously masterminded that dastardly killing.

But the film’s plot kicks in when military intelligence officer Vikram Singh (John Abraham) is dispatched to Jaffna on a covert mission to weaken Anna’s stranglehold on the region. With the help of a British Asian journalist (Nargis Fakhri), Vikram uncovers a daring conspiracy involving foreign players and key figures in the Indian bureaucracy.

Despite the crisp pacing, the film’s first half will likely be a slog for anyone unfamiliar with the subcontinent’s recent political history. It doesn’t help that the writers stuff too much information into these portions, often digressing from the central assassination conspiracy, which remains the film’s key strength.

Madras Café feels more surefooted in its second half when it slips into race-against-time thriller mode. The unfolding of the assassination plot, the decoding of crucial intel, and the chilling explosion itself is remarkably shot and edited, and leaves you shaken despite the inevitability of that climax. What feels clunky, however, is the framing device Sircar employs to tell his story. A grizzly Vikram narrates the events in flashback, thereby diluting the emotional impact of the terrifying assassination scene. Portions featuring Vikram and his wife slacken the pace, particularly one clumsily written love scene. But these are minor complaints in an otherwise slick film that gets so many things just right.

Sircar avoids over-familiar faces in the film, and makes interesting casting choices across the board, particularly Siddhartha Basu in the part of R&AW chief Robin Dutt. John Abraham himself nicely slips into the skin of a committed officer tasked with protecting the nation, and he’s particularly at ease in scenes where he’s out there in the trenches facing the enemy, gun in hand. Even Nargis Fakhri is pleasantly competent as the strictly English-speaking reporter.

Solidly directed by Sircar, who steers clear of typical Bollywood machismo and avoids oversimplifying characters or their motives, the film – at a little over two hours – is a compelling watch. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Madras Café. Until the climate is more conducive for filmmakers to boldly make real-life stories without fear of controversy or censorship, this may be the best way to approach important stories that must be told.

(This review first aired on CNN-IBN)


  1. ,watched the movie.it feels that madras cafe has open the bars for filmmakers in indian film industry which deals with only frontline story and no other objects as songs,item numbers,unreal drama etc.
    Really a good movie…..

    Comment by vivek verma — August 23, 2013 @ 11:04 pm

  2. It’s blasphemy to the art of Indian Cinema to not watch this movie. Please, if you have watched OUATIMD or CE, make amends. Watch Madras Cafe

    Comment by Vamsi — August 23, 2013 @ 11:31 pm

  3. Review of MADRAS CAFE

    *** This cafe serves a fantastic exceptional ‘espionage thriller’ ***
    [ There is no spoon feeding in narration.
    So, Be alert.
    & when they starts to serve on screen,be ready to fill mind’s cup with all the thrilling elements.]

    WHAT’S GOOD :-
    • Script & screenplay
    • Fast & furious pace
    • Awesome blend of history & fiction
    • Under played characters, not a single actor went overboard.
    • Twist & Turns at right time, with right amount.
    • Well shot scenes, real treatment.

    WHAT’S BAD :-
    BAD, This word does not exist in Shoojit Sarcar’s vocab.
    Yahaan, Vicky Donor, Madras Café. All the three films prove it.

    LOO BREAK :-
    Yes, there are some moments like, ‘before starting’, ‘interval’ & THE END.

    SCRIPT ANALYSIS :- [ script writers——–Shubhendu Bhattacharya & Somnath Dey].
    [Dialogue – Juhi Chaturvedi]
    The movie, which is set against the backdrop of Sri Lankan civil war, revolves around the serious subject of terrorism and shows how the characters are caught in the political turmoil.
    In this movie, a important piece from the war history of India & neighborhood is taken, which is then mixed or blended with fiction to give it a shape of script.
    And what an amazing mixture, it turns out.
    In the first half, a buildup/set up is provided for the upcoming events regarding war’s violence, political conspiracies, disguised investigation, emotional sacrifices, betrayal and assassination. Lots of things unfold in this part at a smooth pace, in context of film.
    So, go with flow. Don’t let yourself, get behind.
    Because 2nd half is just simply awesome.
    Due to the fantastic set up provided in pre interval session, Interesting & gripping Events unfold and follow each other at a very rapid speed in this post interval part, which is most important spice to make a thriller.
    Some great things needs special mention like, whole things are done without any sort of melodrama. Correctors and situations are written and kept very real, which keeps the audience engaged till the end.
    Dialogues gives a good support to showcase the intensity of situations and language is used for different correctors by keeping in mind the background of those correctors.

    Overall, this is a superbly written, well researched, out of box type script.
    Which presents a new genre and awesome entertainment without compromising on quality.

    John Abraham, An actor is tried to present in this movie by Shoojit and john grabbed this chance with both hands.
    He is fully into his corrector of an Army investigation officer, who is appointed by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in the War Zone. he has kept his tone down and underplayed it, which works in context of movie’s real setting.
    Nargis Fakhri is playing a war correspondent. Whatever screen space is given to her, She has done good job. She has sort of re-discovered herself as an actor after a near miss performance in ‘rock star’.
    Siddartha Basu as R.A.W Head is fitted to the bill and comes out with a good performance.
    Rashi Khanna as John’s wife looks graceful and gives a caring wife role full justice.
    Prakash Belawade, who plays John’s superior Bala, is a delight to watch. Gestures and Restlessness as demanded by his corrector, is totally reflected on the screen. Great work.

    MUSIC: – [Shantanu Moitra]
    There are no songs in the movie as such, everything is played in the background. And in that department Shantanu passed with flying colors. Superb job in background score.
    Special mention:- Real bullets use in sync sound leaves an incredible impact, it does bring authenticity to the film.

    EDITING:- [Chandrashekhar Prajapati]
    This man has done mind blowing job. For a thriller one ingredient is must, pace. He has given it. Every cut, every frame looks apt for the movie. Not a single scene feels forcefully kept.
    super work.

    DIRECTION:- [ Shoojit Sarcar]
    He is a game changer, that’s confirmed. If there was any 2nd thought regarding that, in any mind. This movie is going to clear it.
    What a direction, just awesome work. His movie has touched always out of box zones, Madras Cafe is not behind.
    Although this movie has a theme like real war backdrop & deals with some historical incidents. And playing with history is like playing with fire, because if it gives u edge, it can burn the whole project too (if does not come right).
    But this critical and intense theme is well handled by the director. he has brought out great performances from his acting team and has pulled off a very difficult film.
    Job well done sir.
    Canvas of this movie looks international, and credit for that goes to Shoojit sir and to one more person, Kamaljeet Negi (director of photography), Shoojit’s vision has been superbly captured by him, which is visible on the silver screen. Great camerawork.

    Well, it’s almost a home run.
    A great thriller backed by a killer script. Sure shot A game changer. As real, as it can get.
    Yup….Giving MADRAS CAFE 4 out of 5.
    This movie is not a regular spicy potboiler. Don’t expect over the top action, big dialogues.
    If u like to watch real hard hitting cinema, go visit this CAFÉ.
    Otherwise give a skip.

    Comment by Amit Som — August 24, 2013 @ 12:19 am

  4. I understand you want to make a mark in Hollywood but when an Indian director attempts to pull an Argo, you critique him with the same effervescence……..which is good. What’s bad is when you also evaluate presence of conducive climate………what else are you waiting for? This is it. Plus I hope that you didn’t take points away because of some non-conducive climate. This is India and in 2013, Madras Cafe is the best that is out there. Don’t shy away from giving them a 4 or a 4.5. Lootera wasn’t as good as this one….just sayin.

    Comment by AJ — August 24, 2013 @ 12:47 am

  5. Really a good movie…
    Must Watch Movie….

    Comment by CHETAN — August 24, 2013 @ 7:24 am

  6. It is a shame that so many reviewers and critics are totally unaware of the true geopolitical issues behind the srilankan issue and present a blind eye to such wrongly presented facts. Real shame of a movie and it’s reviews.

    Comment by Dr sriram — August 24, 2013 @ 10:02 am

  7. Okay, okay, sorta movie.. Nothing special about it but since it is based on a proper story, the movie can be watchable. John Abraham somehow didn’t fit in at all else it’d have been a ‘good’ movie.. May be the lead actor could’ve been a Manoj Bajpai / Randeep Hooda /… Nargis was very average. Luckily she didn’t have to do dialogues in Hindi!!

    Comment by Radha — August 24, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

  8. Felt like I was watching a HW war flick. After Argo, comes another good watch!

    Comment by Diana — August 24, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

  9. Madras cafe has got it s share flaws but still its a well made movie n just the attempt to make a movie on such an issue s praise worthy.
    Casting s really good n all the charectors look very real.
    Luckily no songs n unwanted emotions.
    Good movie but not for the ones who LOVE Chennai express…

    Comment by jomy — August 24, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

  10. Once again a truly great review. This movie stands out among the crowd of recent dumb blockbusters. It may feel odd, but this is as far best an Indian political thriller can get close to reality before getting band. Black Friday was another such brilliantly made movie which never seen the face of success a midst a lot of hue and cry while depicting the unbiased truth.

    Comment by Ashutosh — August 24, 2013 @ 5:30 pm

  11. Sorry, I don’t agree with this review, I watched the movie and I found that it’s very slow in first half, they tried to show so many things and which makes it messy. In 2nd half it looks good. I salute the try to make movie on such sensitive topic but it could be much much better if it was created with more detail and proper execution. We need such movie to raise the bar of Indian cinema.

    Comment by Narendra Purohit — August 24, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

  12. Really gutsy to make such a movie, very surprising that not a single movie was made till date on assasination of such a big leader of our country, congrats to the entire team of MC to make that attempt

    Comment by anirudh — August 24, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

  13. http://chillitomato.in/madras-cafe-bold-political-thriller-with-facts-fiction/
    Read Madras Cafe review
    Director Shoojit Sircar has chosen a bold subject of the civil war in the Srilanka, which is for the first time in the Bollywood cinema.

    Comment by Amit — August 26, 2013 @ 10:24 pm

  14. Madras Cafe is superb. like hollywood film. a must watch for everybody especially bollywood khans who make tamil remake and put vulgar songs/ item numbers. bollywood directors please wake and make neat & clean films

    Comment by Sonali — August 27, 2013 @ 10:16 am

  15. Frankly speaking “MADRAS CAFE” is one of the best movies i have recently seen, the direction screenplay and the script mind blowing, and hats off to john ibrahim for making such wonderful movie.I will rate this movie as 4 star.

    Comment by bharat ramani — August 27, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

  16. Enjoyed reading your review Mr.Masand 🙂 Here is my review of ‘Madras Cafe’ http://aajani.blogspot.ca/2013/08/movie-review-madras-cafe.html

    Comment by Amin Ajani — August 29, 2013 @ 2:08 am

  17. really a good movie 🙂

    Comment by Puneet Sood — August 29, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

  18. Not bad…but not good either.Monotonous movie…only bullets firing and all the chiefs and political leaders constantly discussing the same issue…no entertainment, spice or cinematic moments…too fast to feel anything….2.25/5.

    D-day was much better…3.75/5
    Bhaag milkha bhaag…4.5/5
    Chennai Express…2/5

    Comment by Vidgun — August 30, 2013 @ 12:07 am

  19. You are right, but more than the narration, I think what Sircar missed is to reflect the facts of cruel killing and timeless death. The film begins like a documentary and ends like a Bollywood. Probably if Sarcar had added some more elements than flash back to the narration, it would have been better. Well written and directed, but there is always chance for improvement. (Yes, we do have some political and social restrictions, but there are ways to tackle them.)

    Comment by Shashank Jha — August 31, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

  20. Madras cafe is a good attempt to depict the assassination of an ex pm of india. The charm of the movie lies in staying away from going overboard on emotions, unwanted filmy action scenes and meaningless songs. There has been protest about the movie in south but the movie does not show any community in bad light and just shows the incidents has it happened. I really admire the efforts of the director on making a movie on such a controversial topic.
    I admire and trust rajiv’s review and so went to watch the movie and was not disappointed.

    Comment by kapil — September 2, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

  21. The best of the year so far.
    Brave cinema..exceptional direction from Shojit Sircar..hats off!!

    Comment by Ravi — September 4, 2013 @ 7:52 pm

  22. My review of Shoojit Sircar’s ‘Madras Cafe’ @ Reel is Life: Fanatical about films!


    Comment by Karthik Ganesan — September 8, 2013 @ 9:58 am

  23. Madras cafe is brilliant movie! Everyone should watch it. But, most of the people’s mentality is to watch masala movie like faltu,bakwas Chennai Express! But people should watch madras cafe in theaters. Madras cafe can also compete with oscar nominated films such as argo or zero dark thirty!

    Comment by Akash Deshpande — September 14, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

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