Madras Cafe – Bolywood Movie Review


The two early dialogues in the movie, during the discussion between Indian Government officials, give a preview of what is to come.  One of them asks, “who are we fighting” and another one says, “regardless of who is involved in the conflict and the reasons for the conflict, the common people suffer”.   In a war, does it ever remain clear as to who the enemy is and while for generals the war is fought on maps, common people bear the the real cross.

John Abraham gives an excellent performance, in the role of Vikram Singh, an intelligence operative assigned by the Indian officials, to run a covert operation in Sri Lanka, in the midst of the raging civil war.  Vikram is assigned the task of slipping into Jaffna, and infiltrate and sniff out the information about LTTE (by then dubbed a terrorist group) and then help weaken the militant group, by arming and supporting the opposition.  Vikram’s wife (Rashi Khanna) is unaware of her husband’s extremely risky covert operation and while Vikram has “a whole army” to support him, she fights “her battle alone”.  In telling this series of interesting historical events, leading up to the assassination of Indian ex-Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, Director Shoojit Sircar has done a fabulous job in not going overboard.  The story is told without typical Bolywood song and dance masala, without exaggeration.  The story of true events marked by extreme violence and covert operations is effectively communicated in a way that conveys the seriousness and the importance of the events, without explicit use of torture or extreme violence.   Nargis Fakhri gives also gives excellent performance in her role as the British journalist, also without overdoing it.

Acknowledging the fact that true and complex history that unfolds over a period of several decades is hard to chronicle in a movie, a Bolywood movie nonetheless, with Bolywoodish expectations; the film chronicles it well.  Film has been criticized for portraying Tamil Tigers (LTTE) to be extremely militant, while not acknowledging the equally violent acts of Sinhalese army against the Tamil minority.  However, in telling any history, one can only go so far back and the film did make a mention of violence against the Tamil minority; in fact, that is where the film begins.  The film is very well made and I would rate it as 4.8 on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 being excellent.

For anyone interested, I have tried to capture here, a brief history of the events.

Sri Lanka (or Ceylon, as it was know then) got independence from Britain, at the end of World War II.  Ceylon’s politically savvy workforce was clamoring for independence and formation of its own socialist party and they opposed all types of communalism.  The national bourgeoisie saw their power weakening and they responded with separatist and communalistic policies.  A new citizenship law disenfranchised the large numbers of Tamil plantation workers brought from India, during the British colonization period, as indentured labor.  The educated and organized Tamilians in Ceylon began making their own demands, and even began to demand their own separate state.  These demands were met with change in the constitution affirming Sinhalese as the state language and Buddhism as the state religion.  Against this backdrop, LTTE emerged and at first was crushed with severe violence by the Singhalese army.  The LTTE resorted to its own brand of terror and with the control of infrastructure and savvy organization, put up severe opposition.  The LTTE was at first armed by India, and later got out of control and then fought against India.  It came to be listed at a terrorist organization by 32 countries, including India and the US.  When Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister, he emphasized peaceful negotiation and fair elections and stressed that political solution was the only way out of this quagmire.  The LTTE opposed it and Mr. Gandhi was assassinated by first human bomb, by an LTTE member, specifically dispatched to India, for that goal.   Ultimately, in 18 year civil war, nearly 100,000 people died.  (At the time, the population of Ceylon was about 10 million).

An enlargeable map of the Democratic Socialist...

An enlargeable map of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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