Review: Madras Café – John is the Indian Bourne! Boys, reserve your seats at this café!


Grade: BBB / 70%Madras Cafe Poster.jpg

Until LTTE chief Prabhakan’s execution in 2009, Sri Lanka was a battleground between LTTE insurgents who demanded the statehood of an independent Tamil Eelam, and the Sri Lankan military.

In a country that’s shaped somewhat like a hand grenade, army helicopters and tankers were as common a sight as cattle on Indian roads. Peace talks would be stifled by persistent bloodshed, mass murders and constant fear for life; one shot in the film shows a Theravada Buddhist monk walking calmly past rifle-carrying army, who seem to outnumber civilians in this troubled land. People who protested against the army were shot at irrespective of whether the protester was a man or a woman, an adult or a child. All that remains now as lurid reminders of those turbulent times are photographs, usually taken in bleak black and white. And memories that haunt forever.

Vikram Singh (a super-fit John Abraham) is a retired RAW intelligence officer who is haunted by the memories of his past. A recluse, he now drowns his sorrows in alcohol, which only manage to intensify his pain, his wounds. For three years, he has been visiting the church every morning yet the priest doesn’t know his name nor the cause behind his sorrow.Here I believe a church was chosen instead of a temple only because the latter would seem a tad melodramatic (and reserved for chest-beating saree-clad women who animatedly point their finger at God for not hearing their prayers), but never mind.

The film would come to a standstill if Vikram doesn’t open up, and hence on one fine day, he shares his secret with the priest. We then go to flashbacks for the rest of Madras Café, returning to the present only twice, once before interval and once at the end.

And thank God or rather dear-director Shoojit Sircar for not returning more often. John Abraham may be a dedicated actor, but he really can’t play a ‘depressed-defeated-reclusive-retired RAW agent’ convincingly. He himself acts like he wants to cut to the chase and get back to his usual hunky self, and when he does, he becomes our Indian Jason Bourne, not James Bond – Jason Bourne, the protagonist of Bourne Series, played by the dashing Matt Damon.

It seems our Indian Bourne was sent to Sri Lanka in the past, on a covert mission to disrupt LTF rebels after peace negotiations between the government and Anna Bhaskaran-led LTF rebels (i.e. the fictional representation of Prabhakaran-led LTTE with names altered to avoid controversy) failed. There he meets Jaya (Nargis Fakhri), an intrepid journalist who sympathises with the rebels, if not directly supports them, and is critical about the army brutality. She later provides him crucial information about covert dealings conspired between Anna’s representatives and foreign businessmen at Madras Café (an actual cafe), which would ultimately lead to a ‘former prime-minister’s assassination’ at Sriperumbudur. It’s obvious the prime-minister is Rajeev Gandhi, who was killed in 1991 in a suicide bombing by Thenmozhi Rajatman, who was a member of LTTE according to sources.

Vikram reports to senior Bala, who in fact is double-crossing RAW and covertly clearing the way for Anna, only for greed of money. He begins to suspect Bala and instructs someone to track his movements after a meeting held by Vikram goes awry and he is later kidnapped by LTF (only to be rescued promptly). It shouldn’t have taken so long to unravel both Vikram’s and Bala’s identities because they’re hardly covert about it. John’s super-serious I’m-here-for-a-purpose gaze, I-look-left-and-right-to-see-if-somebody’s-watching and Bala’s shifty I’m-up-to-no-good looks are easy give-aways.

And yet they do a good job in this deftly-written, fast-paced slick-flick that does away with the rapid cuts of Bourne series and instead relies on plot pacing and left-and-right-panning camerawork. The momentum itself takes your breath away and you hardly have time to get bored and start texting on your cell-phones for the entire duration of the film. It is certainly a cut above flicks like Ek Tha Tiger and Agent Vinod, but it’s not quite reached the caliber of movies like Kathryn Bigelow’s Osama Bin Laden-based Zero Dark Thirty. That in fact is a boon for the film because it makes it open to prospect of sequels.

Shoojit Sircar.jpg

Director Shoojit Sircar

I seriously believe Shoojit should cash in for a sequel set in another location and make it just as thrillingly as he’s made Madras Café. The film has characters that recognize each other on the telephone even though they haven’t talked for months, and it gives more importance to the hero’s journey than the situation itself. All that Shoojit needs to do for his sequel is to place John in another place, say Kashmir, involve him in another political imbroglio and bring back some of the characters (anybody except Nargis Fakhri, who’s super-duper-serious and not a dollop of fun) from Madras Café.

It was especially interesting to watch the internal working of rebel forces. One scene shows how LTF men and women camouflage themselves under leaves to sneak attack at the opportune moment. Maybe they should recruit some theatre patrons from Fame Cinemas in Seven Seas Mall in Vadodara. As soon as the hall became dark, these patrons clandestinely sneaked up from the cheaper bottom-two rows to the pricey rows above!



2 thoughts on “Review: Madras Café – John is the Indian Bourne! Boys, reserve your seats at this café!

    • Comments for my articles on WordPress are like rare Christmas presents sent by Santa! Note that I changed my style of writing for this review (including the cheesy ‘John is Bourne’) as I’ve written this as a reviewer for a website called ( the guy has yet not uploaded it though).

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