'Madras Cafe' - Taut, Exceptional Political Thriller
Bangalore: "Madras Cafe"; Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri and Raashi Khanna; Director: Shoojit Sircar; Rating: ****
If only history could be changed by art. Cinema is a powerful medium for socio-political expression and revolution. Alas, in this country, entertainment engages all other aspects of life on celluloid.
But seriously, it's time now to get off the "Chennai Express" and get into "Madras Cafe" for a cup of the compelling. We need a reality check. And we need to regain a sense of history in Bollywood cinema which seems lost in the hoary art of streetside tamasha, glorified and aggrandized by processes of cinematics that are perceived to be the elixir of pop culture.
It is time for mainstream entertainment to grow up. Heightened realism is a means to achieve a synthesis of fantasy and history in this deftly scripted semi-fictional account of the processes leading to Rajiv Gandhi's tragic assassination in 1991.
The trenchant script, co-written by Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya, attempts and succeeds in building the same spiral of pseudo-history that Oliver Stone built in "JFK". I feel Indian politics, because of the country's multi-culturism, is far more complex than its American or European counterpart. Our cinema tends to dilute, simplify and trivialise history because we are much too wary of and lazy about getting involved.
Not Shoojit Sircar. Not "Madras Cafe". Not John Abraham. What a courageous producer and actor John has proven himself to be! More of that later.
But first the plot.
Let me say right away, that to understand the enormity of the story told in "Madras Cafe", the audience ought to be familiar with the violent history of the Sri Lankan civil war. But even if you don't know that thousands of Tamilians died in the war of separatism, it is no sweat off the screenplay's back.
Tucked away in the compelling creases of the plot is a terrific thriller about the assassination of a prime minister, who, let it be known, is not named in the film. Nor are the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam), Prabakaran and the other key players. But then this is India. Here, secrecy and stealth are the founding fathers of any political expose.