I was too lazy to write a whole review, so here’s the snack version:
* Madras Café is not a terrible movie by any stretch. Shoojit Sircar is a talented filmmaker. The plot is very, very intriguing but Shoojit’s direction is clearly the highlight of the film.
* How often do you see a mainstream
Bollywood Hindi movie that has no songs? Shoojit and producer John Abraham have gigantic balls, and full credit to them for making such an honest effort.
* 99.99% of the thrillers, especially the ‘political’ or ‘military’ ones made in India are either tacky, or jarringly commercialized or just plain turds. Madras Café is not a heap of horseshit like Tango Charlie. This is a genuinely slick, decently put together thriller, almost as good as the first half of D Day.
* Madras Cafe isn’t the Zero Dark Thirty of India, and expecting anything even remotely close to that film’s quality is stupid. If anything the film is a wannabe Blood Diamond. Shoojit borrows heavily from Blood Diamond – the style, the camera angles, the blocking, the action scenes, the editing, the music, it’s all reminiscent of that movie. Except instead of an emotional Leo DiCaprio there’s an Oak tree in the lead role.
* The action scenes are staged well. There is a lot of violence, but it’s not sensationalist or gratuitous. And the military tactics are (passably) well done. The CGI and special effects are also not shitty. That’s rare in Hindi cinema. That said, keep your kids at home.
* While it’s not a bad film, it isn’t an Oscar winner. It stumbles a lot of times as the narrative swings from taut to gripping to cringe inducing. It’s as if Shoojit vacillated between sticking to a non-commercialized gritty thriller and giving in to Bollywoodization to cater to the mainstream dodos.
* It’s also over-edited. Some important plot points just race past, and the film doesn't stop to focus on them. It’s a little unfortunate but given the running time I am not sure slowing it down further would've helped the film.
* It is endlessly frustrating to watch John Abraham in the lead role because someone more talented would've really elevated the film to a higher order of cinema. He tries very hard, but his facial muscles just don't budge. Clearly John is a better producer than an actor.
* The rest of the cast isn't any better. Everyone from Nargis Fakhri to Siddharth Basu are hilariously bad. There is enough ham in this film to feed Pepperoni Pizza to Versova for a month. Really wish the film had a better cast.
* I do not know how factually accurate the film is. I am not an expert on LTTE and Sri Lanka. I am only acquainted with the surface level details. And I am too lazy right now to research the topic. But I can tell you that the politics shown in the film is at best Chetan Bhagat level. So don’t expect much. The procedural action anyway glosses over the political and police work, and it’s sure as hell better and more polished than the likes of A Wednesday and the misbegotten Special Chabbis. And hey you can make good films without being factually 100% accurate.
* In any case none of these shortcomings mean that you should avoid this film. Watch it. Ignore the ham acting. Ignore John’s military beard. Occupy yourselves with something else every time Nargis Fakhri appears on screen - count prime numbers, take a Komal Nahta style loo break, whatever. But watch the film. It’s interesting.
* As for the MDMK outraging over the film portraying the LTTE in ‘bad light’, I offer them a gift wrapped goodie bag full of irony and the following tweet by my pal Over Rated.
They assassinated a former pm & committed countless atrocities, but appearing in a John Abraham movie was really bad for LTTE's reputation.
— Overrated Outcast (@over_rated) August 22, 2013