Making a thriller is always a challenging task especially if it is a political one for the simple reason that various factors come into play and it takes considerable skill and imagination to impart it with a certain resonant tone which makes it stand on its own. Set amidst the Sri Lankan civil war in 80s, Madras Cafe is a firmly held political thriller which benefits equally from both; intelligently written script and faithful direction of the material. Efficiently recreating that era of political turbulence, the movie starts on a very personal note. John Abraham who plays an intelligent agent in the film finally (after three years of personal turmoil) gathers the courage to confess in church about his role in India’s intervention in the Sri Lankan civil war and subsequently Nation’s failure in successfully dealing with it. Almost entirely told in flashback fashion it centers around the civil war, India`s involvement in it and various political and economic permutations it caused. This is what can be viewed as the basic plot of Madras Cafe.
First person narrative is an intelligent choice to make the film more personal and heartfelt. Whole story is derivative of this point of view only. A taut thriller is often the result of successfully collaboration of various aspects of film making and fortunately for Madras Cafe this has resulted in a significant piece of work. Shoojit Sircar does complete justice to the script and applies his directorial craft in a way which talks about his keen understanding of cinema. Much of the praise is also for the script which is one of the major strengths of the movie. Well researched and skill-fully plotted, Madras Cafe finds its energy from the script which could have been easily lost without the right treatment of it. Dialogues are aptly written and is in synchronization with the characters and gradual unfolding of the story.
Shoojit Sircar once again (previously in Vicky Donor) applies his minimalist style of direction and stays completely faithful to the written material. His direction also benefits a lot from the sharp editing which completely serves its purpose in making Madras Cafe a firmly held political thriller. Cinematography is exceptional by Indian standards and reminds one of great war films like The Thin Red Line (1998), The Killing Fields (1984) and Platoon (1986)
Shantanu Moitra gives the background score and has managed successfully to make it a thematic element of the movie, although in an invisible fashion. John Abraham gives a decent performance and his sincere efforts towards intelligent cinema is commendable. Just while watching the film I felt that there are two aspects where the film has faltered. In the second half, the film becomes much complex and it becomes hard to keep a track of it. Quick switches from one scene to another confuses the audience at times and makes it hard for them to watch the movie. But thankfully that only stays for a short period of time and the film again regains its clarity and pace towards the end. The tragedy and suffering of the protagonist (John Abraham) is not fully convincing and appears half hearted at times. This could have been brilliantly executed given the scope of the characters. Although, the final scene where John comes out of the church reciting a poem of Rabindranath Tagore deserves a special mention.
Madras Cafe along with other movies which have come out in the recent past once again confirms that Indian cinema is seeing a significant shift and the future seems only brighter for Indian movies in terms of global recognition and establishing a status of cinema not as mere entertainment but also as a respectful art form.