Give Shoojit Sarcar any script and he is expected to do justice to it. This time around too, he does a great job of putting together a political drama that has always been regarded as one of India’s saddest moments as the country lost a promising leader back then. It’s always a challenge to make a film based on real-life incidents, particularly a political one. Sircar, however, does not seem to struggle here. Madras Café, as known to many, is based on the political struggle that engulfed India in the 80-90s, owing to its relationship with Sri Lanka that eventually led to the assasination of Rajiv Gandhi.
The intense script (by Somnath Dey and Shubhendu Bhattacharya), surprisingly, captures various important incidents of the time and does not seem to hold back on narrating various key strategic findings from the bygone decades. The war scenes are gruesome and raw, setting a trend for future Indian war films. The cinematography adds to the rawness and helps in creating the background, look and feel and does justice in representing the times back then.
The narrative, as seen from the point of view of an Indian RAW agent deployed to Sri Lanka to handle the crisis for India (played by John Abraham), can confuse you at times. But do understand, the scene was never pretty and portraying hard reality is surely a task. The first half is rather weak when compared to the second, but lays the foundation of highlighting how the RAW agent discovers a dark conspiracy that was hidden behind some of the important faces of the Indian bureaucracy. So yes, for someone who is not familiar with the history of that period, catching up with the pace might seem like a struggle.
The pace picks up in the second half and the script gets stronger. It brings out various emotional aspects of each of the characters. The entire film is devoid of any romance in particular, despite one poorly penned and directed portion. What I liked most was Sircar’s pick of the cast. Unusual faces and gripping performances adds an entire new level of curiosity to this entire political drama. Yes, you got it right; I did like Prakash Belwadi’s performance. Finally a befitting role for this theatre genius! Another such brilliant performance is put up by Siddhartha Basu. Nagris Fakhri, surprising is not as cold and seems to have tried hard to portray her character. Coming to John, I’m confused. At times, I did feel if he thought they were doing a photo shoot and hence he remained still or was he expected to be so. But yes, those were difficult scenes and hence, I can ignore them. I can say he did get into the role and try hard to deliver, but the fact is that it does not seem effortless. Overall, a huge improvement when compared to his usual candy-boy roles.
What deserves mention is how Sircar captured the euphoria that surrounded Rajiv Gandhi back then. The hysteria and love that the people of the country showed was depicted beautifully in less than 10 seconds when Sircar tries to depict the last rally attended by him at Sriperumbudur. People wept back then and Sircar shows why and how in an extremely well-crafted sequence.
Overall, it’s a commendable effort by the entire team and I would recommend you watch it once. Political dramas are never too easy, more so because they lack romance which easily gives India cinema the opportunity to squeeze in at least 5 glorified songs. This team has done its homework and put in enough effort to capture the rawness and criticality of the times. In the end, it’s a job well done!