madras cafe (2013) – i need some more heart

Pu and I have more coffee after ‘Madras Cafe‘ but that still does not help us to understand what the film is all about. Both of us at some point in the film, individually begin suspecting it to be a pre-election propaganda film for the Congress Party. Evoking memories of a gentle, peaceful Prime Minister, assassinated because he did not want war.

I have no problems with films that mix facts with fiction, my mind more often than not does the same thing, as does my tongue. But I do like the facts and fiction within a film to make sense within the context of the film.

‘Madras Cafe’ gives me no sense of any world, it definitely does not elucidate the political situation of a time, nor does it draw me within the world of its characters. In the first 5 minutes, I learn that we can make movies that look superficially like they could be made in Hollywood, the camera moves, the editing is sharp, it all looks well done, but 130 minutes later, it is just tedious, the camera never rests, the editing is too sharp, and we jump from one place to another, there are too many languages and too many accents for the sake of authenticity and I stop listening, there is a lot of talk about a conspiracy, but nothing really moves forward in terms of the story. Everyone seems to know what will happen, how it will happen, who is the traitor, within the film, and of course, most of us in the theatre know the bare facts of the story of the assassination, and yet, nothing really happens.

Everyone has a stock set of lines and expressions, which they keep repeating, in every scene. For e.g. Jaya, the journalist (Nargis Fakhri), pouts, speaks English in a robotic American accent, and is serious and suspicious all the time. Robin Dutt (Siddharth Basu) looks disheveled, harassed and resigned all the time. He actually tries to comfort one of his best officers Vikram (John Abraham) after he has lost his wife, by telling him how his wife and children nag him about why he works at such a dangerous job. Since most of his job seems to be convincing the Cabinet about the need for more action, I am not sure where the danger lies. The same malaise affects all the characters, i.e. no graph, no growth, a few lines which they must repeat in different ways at different times.

How often can one be told that so-and-so met so-and-so at Madras Cafe, that this-and-that is going to happen, that so-and-so leaks information, that so-and-so did this-and-that in this-and that-way. It is exhausting.

Surprisingly, though John Abraham in fact, is watchable, doing his job seriously. But seriously, I wish his character had been allowed to go through events, instead of telling us a story. The first half of the film is propped up with a voice-over as Vikram tells the story of the assassination conspiracy to the local priest. Pu wonders why the priest has not been reading newspapers.

I can understand the need to take the support of narration to explain a complicated political situation but do we need a narration by Vikram to explain that his wife, Ruby (Rashi Khanna) is fighting her own battle with her fears about his safety, while she cries with her head on his shoulder, and says that she is worried about his safety, when in fact, those are her set of lines through the film, ‘I am worried’, ‘You are going to war’, ‘I feel scared for you’.

Narrations seem to have become mandatory in a lot of Hindi films, and I wonder why? Are the corporate production houses scared that the dumb audience won’t understand even boy-meets-girl without being told that boy-meets-girl, and boy-has-bad-memories without being told boy-has-bad-memories? But like the moving cameras, and the technical effects, the narration seems to be there to add more white noise to the film, to fool you that something is happening, when it is not.

I just came away from ‘Madras Cafe’ wishing I had stayed at home, and watched ‘Dil Se‘ instead. I like my reality laced with fantasy.

madras cafe

20 comments

  1. hated the shaky camera bit, but i thought it was an interesting slice of history they chose to present. agree with the film needing to be more of a story, the flashback mantra didn’t work too great! Was also jumbled up, so I hear from my husband, on the uniforms, war tech, etc! He rejected it for being poorly researched, a supreme crime apparently🙂

  2. I’m glad I read this. Was just thinking of inviting a friend to watch the movie with me. I don’t watch very many movies in the halls so I try to pick the ones I do watch with care. So, thank you!

    • No, no, Dustedoff, please go see it. I hate driving you away from the cinema hall. Though of course, you can’t go too wrong with an oldie. And there is always fast forward.

      • Oh, I’ll go to a cinema hall, all right. Only, I’ll go see Percy Jackson. Why waste money on something I have been already told isn’t good?

        P.S. I never fast-forward. No matter how bad a film.

        • Dustedoff, True. Unless we get really cheap tickets, seeing a bad film, seems like a colossal waste, with ticket rates these days.

          I hated fast-forwarding too, but if I watch a film with Teja, it’s hard keeping him away from the remote.🙂

  3. I watched it and was bored out of my skull. It was a terrible movie. A lot of unnecessary “art” stuff, like that child holding the “stop tamil genocide” in the middle of a war zone where people are running for their lives. It felt kinda ridiculous.

    And a lot of people commented on how well John A and Nargis F acted, which again, was ridiculous. Just cos they’re not gyrating to item numbers does not mean they’re now acting well. John’s deadpan dialogue delivery was terrible. Nargis F was a London based journalist with an American accent (with no explanation of how that happened. Which is a minor gripe, but still), and her acting was no different from the way she acted in Rockstar.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I reallllllly disliked the movie and their attempt at “serious cinema”.

  4. Kasauli is close to where I live, and it is a place I have visited often. Hence I was charmed to see it featured in a film so nicely.

    As for the 1st half, I could not figure out what was happening. I cottoned on the story a little late – Oh, The Assassination!

    The whole conspiracy angle seemed weird, the one hatched in Madras Cafe, it was so vague.

    Yet I did not totally dislike the film.

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