Starring: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri, Rashi Khanna, Siddhartha Basu, Dibang
Directed by Shoojit Sarcar
The ostensibly fictionalised Madras Cafe has strong roots in the real. For those well-versed in the ethnic conflict between the Sinhalese and the minority Tamils in Sri Lanka in the ’80s-90s, there are enough references to real events and people: the fight for a separate homeland, the refuge in India of one Anna Bhaskaran of LTF, who couldn’t be anyone but the LTTE head Prabhakaran, and the disputes amongst the various Tamil groups themselves. There’s a nod to Adnan Khashoggi here, an invocation of Chandraswami there. Sarcar goes about portraying the discord and the civil war in a matter of fact, clinical way, neither taking sides nor getting judgemental. But then, Madras Cafe is not a political, ideological film so much as a thriller about a grand conspiracy from which an ex-PM of India could not be saved.
John plays an Indian army officer appointed by RAW as part of a covert operation to get rebel groups in Sri Lanka to surrender and restore peace for provincial elections. The highlight of the film is the way it has been shot, with the swoop and panorama that one would associate with a Hollywood film on Vietnam. Irony is that Madras Cafe itself speaks of Sri Lanka being India’s Vietnam. The casual officialdom in New Delhi and its disconnect and detachment with the ground situation is captured well. How the bureaucracy created a monster, then created more monsters to counter it and in effect botched up everything. It only helps that Sarcar gets some Delhi faces—Siddhartha Basu, Sudhanva Deshpande—to bring the sloppy babudom alive. Rashi Khanna as John’s wife makes her elegant presence felt. Nargis Fakhri as a UK journo of Indian descent remains as stilted as she was in Rockstar.
There is an overall terseness in story-telling. The guerilla fighting, the encounters and ambushes and the heart-rending bloodbath have been shown with restraint, the camera doesn’t ever get voyeuristic. What is irksome is the protracted voice-over, stretching almost the entire first half. Could not there have been a better way to establish the context, state the facts than turn the film tedious with the commentary and explanation? It makes the first half seem like a primer for the uninitiated than a piece of fiction.
Things get gripping in the second half as security leaks happen, covers get blown and death comes knocking within the confines of families and homes. The boundless, fathomless pain of losing a loved one is portrayed with depth and intensity, but no melodrama. None of the characters (save John) get into focus as individuals nor is much time spent on their relationships. Because the real character here is the tragic situation itself.
Edited online. The print version of this article refers to "covert operation in the pre-IPKF days". The reference to "pre-IPKF days" has been removed from this version.
Read the review of Madras Cafe (Sep 2). Thing is, the movie doesn’t show any of the IPKF’s or even the Sri Lankan army’s atrocities on Tamil civilians in the north and east, and blames everything on LTTE. This amounts to distorting history. Serious movies, other than providing entertainment, also play a role in opinion-making. Anyone, even Tamils who don’t know much about the ethnic conflict, would be led to thinking that anyone who sympathised with or worked for the LTTE was a terrorist.
The maleis usually negatively stereotyped as an unintelligent, violent, sexual predator, and the woman is positively stereotyped as sensous, intelligent, and sexual being.
Suffice it for the reviewers to say : Is this film any different?
This movie doesn't show the atrocities done by Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) or the Srilankan Army to Tamil civilians and blames everything only on the Tamil groups. Some of the Tamil groups might have contributed to the plight of civilians of the island but this movie is totally a misguiding portrayal of history. It went way more than a contradiction to its tag line "intercept the truth". Movies, especially the ones that talk about serious social issues, don't just work as means of entertainment but also as means of opinion making. Anyone, even Tamils, who don't have much knowledge about the ethnic conflict would be made to think that the groups whoever are working for Srilankan Tamils' cause are "terrorists". When there are so many Tamil groups including students, striving for the cause of Tamils in the island, 'Madras Cafe' is going to act as a hurdle for the support for the cause to grow to other Indian states.
I fact, Nargis is very impressive as the news reporter, when in Rockstar she was positively silly and foolish. Also, the movie must be really great, considering Shoojit Sirkar is the director, but I didn't like the movie, as if I disliked the movie more. I just felt bad about the whole situation, and one wouldn't want to appreciate any performance in the movie. Then again, Nargis did stand out. If I was an ex-P. M., it might bring my nation into disrepute, if I were to not heed security warnings because it would be wildly appreciated by the crowds in a rally. What is greatly meaningful , and unfathomably so, is that the person from Tamil Nadu is so in the mainstream, that people all over India were as depressed as if one of them had been the assassin.
I always looked at politics in a manner, where I didn't bat an eyelid, when a P. M. might have been removed from the cabinet, but it was frightening when Indira Gandhi was assassinated. It was an aid to feeling a bit hopeless, perhaps when Rajiv Gandhi died in the manner he did. It was widely accepted, that he would have been re-elected, but I have doubts, as the Vajpayee led govt. was not re-elected, and the B. J. P. was sitting on the treasury benches.
Shekar Gupta of Indian Express wrote " India's Biggest Stories : First Draft' sharing his experiences in the Sri Lankan War with LTTE .First Installment appeared yesterday ,Second today and Third Last will appear tomorrow .
Worth reading .The links below for all the serious minded readers .
1. " "First Person" in this series comes from the idea that I confine myself to my first-hand experience. And "Second Draft", because the passage of time gives you the benefit of reflection and hindsight to see what you covered in real time in fresh light. These stories were done in different periods between The Indian Express and India Today and I am grateful to the latter for allowing me the use of archival material, including pictures and some graphics.
I was assigned to follow up on Rajiv's assassination within about 10 days, as the first indications of a Sri Lankan connection emerged. I was already an old Sri Lanka hand of sorts, having been both lionised and demonised in that country. But more about that later.
''So you've come to find out who killed Rajiv? I will tell you," he said, "the same gang that tried to kill me and failed, but will succeed eventually," he said.
"Which gang, Lalith, let's be specific", I asked.
"It is the LTTE, of course," he said, "but it isn't just the LTTE. This b...... is also hand in glove with them," he said. He was referring to his president, Premadasa.
"You have really got shaken up, Lalith," I said. "How can you make such a serious allegation?" I was quite sure that he had gone completely unhinged.
"You know nothing, my friend," he said.
"These b......s killed Vijaya Kumaratunga (Chandrika's matinee idol husband and peace activist, fondly described as the Amitabh Bachchan of Sri Lanka). This b...... killed Ranjan Wijeratne (Lalith's successor in the security ministry), he also got Rajiv killed. I survived once but he will finally get me killed. He will get Gamini Dissanayake (another prominent opposition leader) killed. Then he himself will get killed eventually. And you, my friend, do not ask too many questions here. You know too much. In fact, the sooner you go back, the better," he said.
Then he made another sensational claim. At the peak of IPKF operations in Sri Lanka, he said, Premadasa was supplying arms to the LTTE. And to add a touch of absurd irony, in Tata trucks gifted to the Sri Lanka army by India. He gave me copies of some government documents as evidence and which I could use without attribution. On the record, he had this telling line that we published: "When we get angry with someone, we may slap him. The LTTE will simply kill him."
''First Person Second Draft :: DAED men talking
There is nobody all terrorists and militants hate more than peacemakers.
The Taliban and the Lashkars kill many more innocent Muslims than Christians, Hindus or Jews.
The Khalistanis killed The more Sikhs than Hindus.
The Kashmiri separatists will kill more Kashmiris than mainland Indians.
And the Maoists will kill more tribals than non-tribal "exploiters".
In all cases, most of the victims will be moderate, innocent, unarmed, particularly those seeking peace. In that sense, Sri Lanka's story has not been so different from others. It has just been enormously more brutal, in such a uniquely, clinically dramatic way.''
On the same tour of duty, the Tamil areas presented a different picture. The IPKF was now quite dominant, and the LTTE in hiding. Between RAW and the Indian army, two anti-LTTE armed groups, EPRLF and ENDLF (Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front and National Democratic Liberation Front) had been set u the LTTE massacred most of them.'p. Essentially, these were armed mercenaries crueller than the LTTE, but with not a fraction of their discipline. Eventually,
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