Reviewing the Reviews: 2.5-4 stars for Madras Cafe

26 Aug,2013

By Deepa Gahlot


Madras Cafe

Director: Shoojit Sircar

Main Cast: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri, Rashi Khanna and others


Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe is one of those films that put critics in a quandary. It takes up a subject unusual for Hindi cinema, and treats it with a no-frills realistic style, so it deserves praise. But then, it is an uneasy blend of fact and fiction, has lapses of logic and below par performances, and that is a problem.


In the end, it won some heartfelt praise, some grudging, and ratings from 2.5 to 4, which can confuse readers of multiple media. There was also the controversy raging, with Tamil groups protesting against its release.


Anupama Chopra of Hindustan Times wrote, “Watching Madras Cafe is both frustrating and satisfying. The thriller, set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war, is, in equal parts, muddled and moving. There are sequences of power and eloquence. And passages in the first half that had me so confused that I couldn’t figure out who was chasing whom.”


Rajeev Masand of CNN-IBN was all praise. “Solidly directed by Sircar, who steers clear of typical Bollywood machismo and avoids oversimplifying characters or their motives, the film – at a little over two hours – is a compelling watch….  Until the climate is more conducive for filmmakers to boldly make real-life stories without fear of controversy or censorship, this may be the best way to approach important stories that must be told.”


Sukanya Verma of commented, “When done right, few combinations have the allure of fact meets fiction. The veracity of one pitched against the ingenuity of another can produce awe-inspiring results. Though not entirely above faults, Shoojit Sircar’s Madras Cafe marries the two to direct an engaging political thriller about a fictional character’s experience against real events and references, namely Sri Lankan Civil War and the assassination of ex-Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi.”


Nandini Ramnath of Mint came close to panning it. “Madras Cafe hints at a conspiracy within the conspiracy, but it’s never really clear what exactly is the untold truth being revealed. The nationalities of the Caucasian men with whom LTF cadres are consorting? The extent of corruption within RAW? The notorious inefficiency of the Indian state?”


Karan Anshuman of Mumbai Mirror was lenient. “In a predictable trend, if a film’s opening titles are a classic text-on-black you may assume with near certainty that it is going to be a sensible film. Not that experimenting with opening credits doesn’t often make for sensible cinema, but the simplicity of the concept usually foretells complexity of the story to follow. And Madras Cafe is a complicated film.”


Saibal Chatterjee of was warm in his praise. “Madras Cafe is a sinewy and riveting espionage thriller that entertains without having to play to the gallery. That isn’t the only departure from norm that director Shoojit Sircar makes. He also attempts a risky tightrope walk between staying true to recent geopolitical history and the need to serve up an imagined, dramatised spy story. He succeeds on both counts. At no point does Madras Cafe appear to be in danger of losing its balance and plummeting into a void. Sircar hits the right strides, and blends fact and fiction with great narrative aplomb and visual flair.”


Srijana Mitra Das of the Times of India raved, “Madras Cafe’s true star is its story which builds up to an agonizing end. It brings to life the Lankan war which many viewers were too young to have known. It highlights India’s ambiguous role, moving sensitively, taking no sides, except those of relationships involving respect – but no romance – between Vikram and Jaya, duty, victory and loss. Its second half grows more fraught and taut, conspiracies and compulsions becoming clearer. John stays low-key and competent as Vikram while supporting actors, like agents Bala, SP and Vasu, stand out. Restrained performances by the LTF suicide bombers are chilling.”


Anuj Kumar of The Hindu was impressed too, “After a rather uninspiring start, Sircar has plotted a gripping tale where the action shifts from South Block to South India in almost real time. Here, it is not just the people in a scene that you have to listen to; you have to keep an ear out even for those who are not in the frame. Considering he starts with a handicap, where we know the end from the start, he manages to keep us riveted for the most part. His victory lies in the fact that he makes us believe that the tragedy could have been prevented. His hint at a larger conspiracy of a syndicate with business interests in the region echoes what Agent Vinod also hinted at, but Sriram Raghavan got carried away with the demands of the box office. Sircar chooses to keep it closer to reality.”


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