Madras Cafe - Review

wogma rating: The keen should rent; else TV (?)
quick review:

Unevenly paced yet engaging, a must watch but not necessarily in a rush.



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Wogma Review

After two weeks of typical masala fare, anything "different" is more than welcome. And that's exactly what Madras Cafe is - different - something that hasn't been tried too often in India; a real-life incident from recent history fictionalised but put forth with as much realism as is possible; the politics behind the incident is deciphered to some extent. For that I admire the makers for investing the time, money and talent in this project. Yet, ultimately as a film, Madras Cafe's narration seemed like I was narrating a horrifying news item to my kids - simplified; episodic; brought down to their level; without getting into too much detail yet pointing out the necessary elements.

In its treatment, Madras Cafe reminds you of the numerous political thrillers from Hollywood which are very well-executed even if pulsing with drama. It keeps you engaged, has a texture that it maintains beautifully throughout the film, and of course, has its share of loopholes. It assumes a high regard for a certain position - in this case, it substitutes the President of the United States of America with the ex-Prime Minister of India. His importance and stake in the scheme of things is a given.

There are a few other things that worked against the drama though. For example, at the very outset you know the outcome of the film. There is nothing to look forward to in terms of turn of events, there is nothing to hope against hope for. I couldn't help but wonder what if the film hadn't opened with Vikram's (John Abraham) take on things. I wonder if the build up to the same event would've been different, I wonder if there would've been a better connect with the characters.

Here you have someone you know nothing about in remorse about some deadly political event he was a part of. You are given a bit of his backstory but other than that you have nothing than your nationalism to connect to the happenings. The moment Jaya (Nargis Fakhri) makes a pretentious comment about anti-nationalism, you disconnect from her. And this is one of her first few lines in the film. Not that she has much to do later in the film, yet I was constantly looking for some way to be more involved.

The first half of the film is narrated with fervor and is completely engrossing. The many events and characters keep you on your toes. The brief background of the situation that was steaming in Sri Lanka and the ethnic war was perfect both as a quick revision to those of us who knew of it and an introduction to those who didn't. Like I mentioned earlier, motivations and implications are explained efficiently.

You are taken aback by the realism when you realise how overt a covert operation really is. It's not difficult to believe that that's how things must be in real life. So real that you forget it is John Abraham playing the role of secret agent, Vikram. This is by far his best performance. In addition, once you've walked out of the theater, you have to marvel at his gutsy decision of producing a film of this nature - this film is as devoid of masala as it gets.

I am sure, the film had a number of things that aren't authentic but the dangerous situations in which our agents operate just glares at you. At the same time, you wonder if one agent's life is really considered precious enough for the entire R&AW to put its men at stake.

Moreover, later, the pace slackens off in the second half where Madras Cafe tries to delve into the emotions of the people who you aren't connected with. I don't have so much of a problem with slow-paced films as I have with inconsistency in the pace. It's like you have to apply a sudden brake when you are driving at top speed. For example, while you have a person kidnapped and released within five minutes, the methodology of decoding hidden messages is painstakingly and childishly described later in the film.

Also, Madras Cafe tries to bring in the sentiments of the terrorists a little too late in the film, especially considering the film is very clear about where it stands on the issue. A one-liner takeaway at the end of the film only amplifies the fact that not enough time was spent on the other side. I think it is brilliant that a filmmaker/writer picks a side and sticks to it. Then, why the need to show the other side?

On the other hand, I loved the other contrast that director Shoojit Sircar brings out. Every once in a while, in this place full of violence and turmoil you see a peaceful monk walk through as if he were in a monastery. Also, the contrast of the monstrosity of the terrorists/rebels agains the beautiful landscapes of Sri Lanka are captured beautifully by cinematographer Kamaljeet Negi.

So, here we are, some things brilliant, others not so much. A film that insists on not naming names but is about the events that build up to the assassination of an ex-Prime minister of India in 1991 and not to mention releases in the week of Rajiv Gandhi's birthday. Nevertheless, a film I'm glad was made, even if there were things I didn't quite like. A film which I hope you will watch, even if you don't rush to the theaters. A film that makes me wonder about its timing, given the current political climate of the country.

- meeta, a part of the audience

Parental Guidance:

  • Violence: Lots and lots.
  • Language: Clean.
  • Nudity & Sexual content: One kiss and a very brief making out scene.
  • Concept: The events that build up to the assassination of an ex-Prime minister of India in 1991.
  • General Look and Feel: A dated, grim texture that works wonderfully for the serious theme.

Detailed Ratings (out of 5):

  • Direction: 3.5
  • Story: 3
  • Lead Actors: 3.5
  • Character Artists: 2.5
  • Dialogues: 3
  • Screenplay: 2.5
  • Music Director:
  • Lyrics:

Madras Cafe - Movie Details

Madras Cafe - Trailer

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Comments (15)

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It is sad that the film is already facing negative vibes from he hardcore commercial establishment...

Look at BH's music rating... for that matter, I saw one music channel predicting the film to be "Thanda"... of course they don't affect my opinion but I'm afraid they predict the general mood in the market...


@jitaditya Really? That's sad. Why would it have a 'thanda' reaction though? I don't get it. :)


The movie is awesome.


The reviews so far have been outstanding. Expecting you to like this one. :)


@Anant Did you watch it?

@Rahul Yep! I expected me to like it better than I did :D


one of the most longest review u ever wrote Meetu . It reminds me of another Abraham's movie (force) which u reviewed "catch on dvd for sure" . I haven't seen the movie but ur review now compelled me to watch. Let's if its worth or not.

Anup :

This movie will give a tough compatition to bhaag milkha bhaag in the competion of being the best movie of this year


@guddu yeah, I wrote quite a bit, didn't I? ;) Let us know what you thought of the film.


Madras Cafe , it was a well researched script , executed earnestly , even though there were glitches and flaws , u will be intrigued. It's also remarkable effort by the makers to choose such a controversial political subjects. Nargis Fakri was a roral miscast , John performance will earn him accloades.


I like the way you review the movies. but its 1st time i disagree with your ratings. its 4 star (but i am tempted to give half star extra for 1st of its kind effort in this category) all the way for me.. all charecters look real even Nargis Fakri..(totally bearable) Also all the charecter artists looked and acted like real people..and deserve a star extra..


@Guddu :)

@sudeep Oh well. Two humans can never have a 100% match, can they? :D

kunal adnani:

Absolute rubbish. Dont understand how people can even sit through this. Sorry excuse for a political thriller. So rajiv gandhi got a call that he was about to be bombed but ignored it? Silly even in a fictional setting. Indians are losing their minds along with their sorry country.


@meetu :D amazing how films get extreme reactions..

Nishant Wadhwa:

I have always loved learning about history through films. Part fact part fiction but the sheer rawness of the movie makes it a worth watch. The characters feel real and so does John's character till he loses his wife. After that I mostly enjoyed learning about the unfolding of the assassination. Its hard to believe that either John or our ex prime minister was a hero but the event happened and we couldn't do anything about it.

Happy that such a movie is made for me this is as good as Bhaag Milkha Bhaag if not better.


@Nishant while the two movies are not comparable, they are good, in their own genres. But yeah, I'm glad the film was made too

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