| by Meenakshi Rao

Starring: John Abraham, Nargis Fakhri, Rashi Khanna

( August 26, 2013, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) From Vicky Donor to Madras Cafe, not just director Soojit Sircar but also actor/producer John Abraham has taken a long jump — from real fun to a real thriller. As a political thriller, Madras Cafe scores with its starkly muted colours depicting the futility of war as it also does by the way the much-hyped snoop operation (with all its accompanying pitfalls) has been highlighted. It being the story of India’s IPKF blunder, leading to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi at a Sriperumbudur election rally in 1991, there is a lot you get hooked on to.

What makes this one a very watchable thriller is the way the entire operation — as messed up as it was — has been factionalised. It compels you to go back to look for the “real” happenings leading to the real assassination and if you have done that, it goes entirely to the credit of Sircar that you come back to the film realising that fiction has, indeed, been merged almost magically with fact.

The film, thankfully, is bereft of item numbers or similar such props that are induced in good films to make it a bad one in the name of box office earnings. What engages you instead is a taut thriller, a bit slack in the beginning but your money’s worth in the last 45 minutes or so when an edge-seat experience catches on to this very Lankan conflict that changed the future of India forever.

Sircar has done well to capture the blood and gore of ethnic war in Jaffna without taking any names, the chicanery of certain Intelligence officers, the futility of chair diplomats rendering one-liners far removed from reality in Delhi, the hidden foreign hand and the price officers on ground pay for their service to the nation.

It is a take that aims at engaging the audience at all levels — by telling them how global wars are fought, how local populations are the only casualty of such often needless strifes and how close our men might have been in averting this big assassination. Now, this is the fiction in the film but who knows how close to reality it might have actually been.

Besides Sircar’s mastery in portraying a subject that might have gone down badly in quarters that matter, something needs to be said about John Abraham’s undertoned acting which lent the other reality byte to the film. Nargis Fakri as the London-based journo of an unnamed newspaper does well in her constricted and somewhat unbelievable role. On the whole, the film is an engagement you must not miss.