For those of us born in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, 21st May 1991 is indelibly etched in the mind. That was the day that the then former PM, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a human bomb – an assassination that shook the country and was to stay on in our memories for a long time to come. For all his failures and allegations of corruption, Rajiv Gandhi was the blue-eyed boy of Indian politics. He symbolised hope, new blood, new vision- a break from the old school. His untimely and tragic death meant the end of an era before the era had even begun. While many of us heard of it that very night, many woke up to this news and Madras Cafe takes you back to that fateful night; rather builds up to that night at Sriperumbudur with a countdown of events that began over 3 years ago.
To think of it, it does seem surprising that while there are so many movies on J&K and Afghanistan and Taliban, no movie has been based or made on the Sri Lankan war that cost not only that country dearly but cost India as well, both in terms of the IPKF and eventually the assassination of the then PM, Rajiv Gandhi. Madras Cafe explores the hitherto uncharted territory of the Sri Lankan strife and with deft handling, that intersperses fact with fiction, it gives us a riveting piece of cinema. That this movie is the work of director Shoojit Sircar of Vicky Donor fame does seem surprising to say the least. There are no histrionics, no clear-cut easy demarcations of right and wrong and the movie displays a sensitivity that is not seen very often in mainstream Hindi cinema. One man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist- the movie holds this dichotomy close to its narrative. How no act is performed in isolation and instead every action or non-action on our part sets in motion a series of apparently unrelated events that culminate in unforeseeable ways, this and such ruminations form a part of the movie’s deeper moorings.
The LTF ( read LTTE), its head Anna ( Prabhakaran), LTF’s rival group, the foreign hand, the leaks in RAW, upright Major Vikram ( Abraham), the war correspondent( Nargis Fakhri), the failing IPKF and beleaguered Indian PM form the central line of the movie but nowhere does it lose sight of the ultimate sufferer or true cost of such wars- the human cost. Be it the Tamil refugees, the rebels, Major Vikram, the RAW chief RD (ably played by Siddharth Basu) or eventually the ex PM- the biggest sufferer is always the human being, no matter who he is. And at the end of it all, you do wonder who lost and who won and was it even worth it.
John Abraham, despite a floundering start, does full justice to his role as an army officer sent to Sri Lanka by RAW for covert operation. He gets no chance to show his chiselled body and, for a change, manages to deliver despite no flesh show. Nargis Fakhri could not have been more convincing as a war correspondent and fares so much better here than she did in her debut movie “Rockstar “.Nowhere does the pace slacken or narrative flounder. For most of us the Tamil strife is just something to be read in GK books. This movie brings it alive. And for those like me, who woke up on the morning of 22nd May, 1991 to the news of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, it was déjà vu and once again, like that fateful day, left me wondering when will the meaningless strife end?