Viacom 18 Motion Pictures, JA Entertainment and Rising Sun Films’ Madras Cafe (UA) is the story of how and why an ex-prime minister of India was killed by Tamil militants. Although it is heavily inspired by the real-life assassination of erstwhile prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, the names of the characters have been changed to make the story fictional.
The film begins with R & A W agent Vikram Singh (John Abraham) ruing the assassination of the former prime minister and confessing before a priest in the church that the prime minister could’ve been saved. He narrates the entire story of how militant Tamil leader Anna (Ajay Ratnam), revolting in Sri Lanka, had masterminded the assassination as he feared that the prime minister, if elected to power again, would thwart his attempts at creating tension in Sri Lanka.
Vikram Singh is sent by the government of India to help the Sri Lankan government fight Tamil militants who were destroying the peace in the country. Vikram is asked by Robin Dutt a.k.a. RD (Siddhartha Basu) to report to Bala (Prakash Belawadi) in Sri Lanka. Soon, Vikram realises that something is amiss and that highly confidential and secret information is being leaked by someone. Before he can act on pinning down the person/s responsible for the leakage, Vikram Singh is kidnapped. After being freed, he is packed off to India by Bala.
Who kidnapped Vikram Singh? Who is leaking information and to whom?
Anyway, once in India, RD, Vikram Singh and their team are still trying to help Sri Lanka restore peace while Bala is doing the same in Sri Lanka. Meanwhile, intelligence officers intercept some telephonic conversations between Anna and others. The conversations are decoded and it emerges that there may be an assassination attempt on the ex-prime minister of India, who, incidentally, had resigned due to the Indian government’s failure to contain the tension in Sri Lanka.
RD, Vikram Singh and others are at their wits’ end, trying hard to prevent the assassination bid. Meanwhile, they learn about the person who used to leak the secret information.
Somnath Dey and Shubendu Bhattacharya’s story is a cinematic version of the assassination bid and ultimate murder of erstwhile prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The duo’s screenplay (with additional screenplay by Dusan Tolmac and script supervision by Ronnie Lahiri) tends to get long-winding and boring in the first half, partly because of the nature of the story and partly because there are a lot of characters played by new faces and it, therefore, becomes difficult for the audience to remember their names and faces. The drama picks up after interval as there is a lot happening in the second half and the pace is also faster. The post-interval portion also has some shocking twists and turns, adding to the drama.
However, the inherent weaknesses of the screenplay, from the commercial point of view rather than from the point of view of the film per se, are: firstly, by its very nature, the film appears like a docu-drama which would appeal to a thin section of the audience only; secondly, since the assassination happened ages ago, not too large an audience may like to re-live the episode of history which the film tries to re-create; thirdly, since the film begins with Vikram Singh saying that the ex-prime minister’s life could have been saved and then it goes into flashback, the audience knows right from the word ‘go’ what the film’s ending would be. Also, there is too much emphasis on the technical side of the assassination bid and that will not hold universal appeal.
Dialogues, penned by Juhi Chaturvedi (with additional dialogues by Tushar Jain), are very good and natural.
John Abraham does well but he could’ve used his body language to more advantage. Nargis Fakhri, as the war journalist based out of Britain, gets limited scope. Her dialogues in accented English will greatly restrict her appeal to a thin section of the audience in the big cities only. Siddhartha Basu acts ably as RD. Raashi Khanna is okay as Vikram Singh’s wife, Ruby. Prakash Belawadi shines in the role of Bala. Ajay Ratnam ought to have been far more effective as Anna. Kannan Arunachalam (as Shri), Arijit Dutta (as Mallaya), Sanjay Gurbaxani (as prime minister of India), Dinesh Nair (as Rajshekaran), Aayaam Mehta (as Vasu), Piyush Pandey (as cabinet secretary), Avijit Dutta (as Swaroop), Nissar Allana (as priest), Banvari Taneja (as Guruji), Dibang (as Raghu), Mark Engels (as Hastings), Stephen Fahl (as Reed), Tarun Bali (as Rishi), Gaurav U.K. Sharma (as Kamal Tegi), Alok Jain (as Ajit), Tushar Jain (as Ghosh), Udayabanu Maheshwaran (as Saba), Parmeshwar (as Narayanan), P.Y. Jose (as Kanda), Ajay Nataraj (as Kannan Kannan), Mahendran (as Selvam), Johnson Manjali (as Pandyan), Balachandran Puranattukara (as Subramanian), Jayaraj (as Capt. Murali), Gayathri Devarajan (as Bala’s wife), Hima Singh (as Kamal Tegi’s wife) and C. Suresh Kumar (as PA to prime minister) provide fair support. Rajeev K. Panday (as Susheel Pandey alias S.P.) and Krishna (as bomb maker Vijayan Joseph) lend formidable support. Others are also good.
Shoojit Sircar’s narrative style does justice to the script. But it must be added that although the director has succeeded in making a film with a lot of finesse, the fact remains that the narration will appeal to the high-gentry audience in the big cities mainly. Connoisseurs of good cinema will relish what they see on the screen but the large base of mass audience will not really approve of the drama. Shantanu Moitra’s background score (background score produced by George and Tanuj) is very effective. His music is class-appealing. Manohar Verma’s action is nice. Kamaljeet Negi’s camerawork is extraordinary. Sets (by Vinod Kumar) are realistic. Chandrashekhar Prajapati’s editing is sharp.
On the whole, Madras Cafe is a class-appealing film which will do well in the high-end multiplexes of big cities mainly. Its performance in the single-screen cinemas and ordinary multiplexes, frequented by masses, will be below the mark. Given its cost, the film will see those associated with it in the red.