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.