Courting controversy is an easy way for films and books to get noticed. In fact, it is the preferred mode of advertisement for a lot of modern-day films. ‘Madras Café’ is set in Sri Lanka in the midst of the Tamil Civil War by the LTTE under Prabhakaran and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Definitely an interesting premise.
The casting did concern me even before I watched the film. John Abraham plays Vikram Singh, an Indian agent who is on a Rambo-like mission to the island to get rid of Prabhakaran’s support systems by joining hands with Bala, decently played by Belawade. Nargis Fakhri plays Jay. Her character is loosely based on Anita Prathap, the former South Asian bureau chief of CNN and correspondent for TIME who was the first journalist to interview Prabhakaran in 1983. Siddharth Basu (where did he come from?) plays the RAW Chief who is in charge of the mission to take out Prabhakaran’s support.
John Abraham in an interview said that he had to lose a lot of muscles to fit into the role, but it didn’t stop him from flexing what was left of them. It also didn’t stop the director, Shoorjit Sircar from making sure that he looked as ‘sexy’ as possible. He maintains his consistency in being an incompetent expressionless ‘actor’. Same goes for Fakhri who is nothing more than a pair of lips just like in her previous role in ‘Rockstar’. It was also funny how it conveniently started to rain as she was walking in the jungle. Apparently, she was cast due to her ability to speak with an accent. Are you kidding me? If they were so conscious about accents and languages, some one should have told them that LTTE does not communicate in Hindi. Also, while Vikram talks to Jay in Hindi, she replies in English. This makes for complete awkwardness throughout the film. Everytime Siddarth Basu was about to speak, I half-expected, “Time for questions in your chosen area of specialization starts now.” I vote that we bring back Mastermind India in case we have to see another one of our brilliant quizmasters making a fool of himself. Derek O’Brian is the first one in this category thanks to his entry into TMC in case you didn’t know.
The initial few minutes show us the brutality of the civil war and contained some powerful images. Then one is brought back to the reality when Vikram Singh decides to narrate his story to a pastor in a church in true bollywood style. The cinematography did capture the beautiful landscapes in Sri Lanka at times, but it negated itself due to the constant shifting of scenes that leaves one confused as to where we were now.
LTTE becomes LTF, Prabhakaran is Bhaskaran a.k.a. Anna, Sri Lanka is constantly referred to as “the island” and Rajiv Gandhi as ex-PM. Then there were the conclaves between the military chief, RAW director, cabinet secretary and other important officials that mimicks Hollywood. The military chief wanting to go for war while the President makes decisions in the spur of the moment. Their interactions were bewildering and one could substitute the ‘Prime Minister’ for ‘President’ and mistake it for a scene from the numerous Hollywood action blockbusters. The writers are also ignorant of the difference in powers of a Prime Minister in India and the President in the USA. People, this is not how decisions are made in this country! Not to mention how the film was played out to portray India’s involvement in Sri Lanka as “Our Vietnam”. In fact, it was mentioned in one of the scenes.
One of the few positives during the narration was the 10 minutes prior to the assassination of the Rajiv Gandhi when the background score finally struck the right chords and raised the tension. The few seconds after the blast was back to cliched Hollywood reminiscent of ‘The Hurt Locker’.
On the ban that the film faces in Malaysia and Tamil Nadu, it is symptomatic of Indian society’s or our diaspora’s intolerance. It is understandable that those close to the Tamil cause in Sri Lanka are offended by the story. It is one-sided and very American in its representation of ‘anti-national’ forces. But, this film is a product of shoddy research neatly packed with confectionaries and eye candy mixed with some controversy. Why would you give this film the benefit of being that important? However, we, as consumers have a right to be offended that the popular film industry thinks that they can come out with products with such minimal work put into it and expect us to call it quality cinema.