For Spectacular Cinema, Hop Off the Chennai Express Train and Head to Madras Café

Over the last year Bollywood has seen a revival of espionage movies centered around the trials and tribulations of *Research & Analysis Wing agents. The resurgence came about with the slick but slightly prolonged Agent Vinod. About five months later arrived a spy flick graced with the grandeur that is Salman Khan, Ek Tha Tiger. More recently there was the propaganda-ridden yet entertaining D-Day.

Now Madras Café takes a few pages out of history textbooks for inspiration through the eyes of a fictitious protagonist (a la James McAvoy-Forest Whitaker starrer The Last King of Scotland). Plus, when the lead star who also happened to be the Producer, touted the intense fare as India’s Argo, expectations only soared.

Will this new political thriller be able to hold its own with Shah Rukh Khan’s latest release still dominating the box office and stiff competition from a similar genre, Satyagraha, lurking around the corner?

The answer is an emphatic yes albeit the numerous set backs in Tamil Nadu and the United Kingdom.

While the film does depict the LTTE groups in a violent light, it does not take a pro or anti stance. Protesters feel otherwise.

While the film does depict the LTTE groups in a violent light, it does not take a pro or anti stance. Protesters feel otherwise.

The film commences with former RAW agent Vikram Singh (John Abraham) during his state of self-imposed exile where he constantly drowns his sorrows in alcohol. He then ventures to an Anglican Church where he recounts his experiences as an agent who spearheaded covert operations in Sri Lanka. Through clandestine means, he was tasked with dismantling the guerilla *LTF faction that his government helped advance during the *Sinhala-Tamil conflict.

As Vikram delved deeper into his mission, he learned of a larger conspiracy amidst the Sri Lankan Civil War to assassinate the *ex Prime Minister. Aiding him in his pursuit of truth is idealistic British journalist Jaya Sahni (Nargis Fakhri). The mission’s consequences also began to take a toll on the RAW officer’s personal life which further motivates him to uncover the conspiracy. The fact that Vikram’s bureaucratic handler Bala (Prakash Belawadi) makes life difficult for him only adds another layer to the conflict.

First and foremost, John Abraham deserves great adulation since he banked on the brilliant script written by Somnath Dey, Shubendu Bhattacharya, and Juhi Chaturvedi. His cinematic acumen is clearly serving him well in that he has switched gears from the delightful comedy Vicky Donor to this unorthodox political thriller. The screenplay keeps you hooked from the get go especially considering the lack of stereotypical Bollywood elements. Whether you are an avid politico or apathetic towards international relations, thankfully the film does not presuppose too much familiarity with the Sri Lankan civil war. The writers cleverly depict the vested commercial/diplomatic interests rampant in world affairs.

Director Shoojit Sircar was the right choice to man the ship because his vision  complements the screenwriters’ historical research and watertight plot. He effortlessly tests the political waters like he did in his directorial debut, Yahaan. However, this time romantic sub plots or colorful song & dance sequences are nowhere to be seen. Chandrashekar Prajapati’s crisp editing is worthy of praise as assembling material chronicling a decade long war into two hours is no laughing matter.

For those who have visited Sri Lanka or lived in India during the 80s/90s, Madras Café will take them back into time. Such is the authenticity of the production design, camerawork, and locations.

In his previous outing, Action Abraham delivered the most bludgeoning performance as Manya Surve. This time as Vikram Singh, he enacts his part with the right mix of subtlety and intensity. New Yorker Narghis Fakhri clearly has a long way to go before her Hindi becomes flawless. Luckily she only speaks English throughout the movie even when the whole cast predominantly converses with her in Hindi and Tamil. Nonetheless with the linguistic barrier taken care of, Fakhri’s histrionics, not her dubbed Hindi, speak volumes. Prakash Belawadi’s portrayal of the antagonistic and compromised RAW Director is enough of a reason for major award functions to bring back the Best Performance in a Negative Role accolade. Ajay Ratnam resurrects brings slain LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran back to life via his rendition of *Anna Bhaskaran. Raashi Khanna does well in her brief but important role.

The movie’s only blemishes lie in minute details though. For instance, one of Madras Café’s central themes elaborates on the negative consequences of *blowback resulting from intervention in other countries’ affairs. This was briefly touched on in the first half when Jaya states, “initially we supported and furthered the LTF, now we have switched sides to the *TNA out of opportunism.”

Not to justify Rajiv Gandhi’s slaying, but it was his turncoat behavior that planted the seeds for his untimely death. Madras Café downplays that fact and instead attributes the overall blame for his killing solely to Machiavellian entities that felt threatened by the leader of an upcoming nation. Additionally, why does Nargis Fakhri’s character have an American accent despite being a British national?

All in all, this is a treat for those who enjoy the interweaving of historical fact and fiction. Get off the train(wreck) that is Chennai Express and head to Madras Café for some appetizing South Indian filter coffee.

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*Research & Analysis Wing – India’s external intelligence agency

*LTF– aclear reference to the LTTE

*Sinhala-Tamil conflict – The ethnic demographics of Sri Lanka consist of the Sinhala majority, roughly 70 percent of the population and the Tamil minorities, 30 percent of the population. After independence from the British in 1948, Prime Minister Solomon Bandranaike implemented certain language policies and educational legislations that began the gradual process of marginalizing the Tamil population. The Sinhalese believed that prior to independence they had been disenfranchised by the British while the Tamils rose to prominence. Hence the special interests (certain backward Sinhala communities) pushed for policies that the educational gerrymandering and unfair ‘Sinhala-Only’ Language Policy. As Tamils’ were relegated to the sidelines, a militant group known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (which was the breakaway faction of Tamil nationalist parties/movements) used guerilla tactics to advocate for Tamil rights. Yes, the LTTE may have legitimate qualms, they resorted to terrorist tactics for the Tamil Agenda. India furthered the group by providing arms and training to them. India did this while acting both as a mediator between the LTTE and Sri Lanka and simultaneously propping up the group. All this just to appeal to the Indian Tamils who were also a major voter base. Eventually the Indian government deemed the LTTE of no use were of no use which is why they the group was rebuffed.

*ex Prime Minister – the ex PM was modeled after former PM Rajiv Gandhi

*Anna Bhaskaran – a character heavily based upon LTTE chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran

*blowback – unintended consequences of a covert operation that are suffered by the civil population of the aggressor government

*TNA – Tamil National Alliance, a rival group of the LTTE

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‘Where there is blood on the streets, buy property’ – Baron de Rothschild

As clichéd as it is to start any piece with an oft quoted saying, I just could not resist it this time because it very much applies to the current state of our world. Plus what seems like real estate advice has instead become the law of the land. So here goes nothing.

Baron de Rothschild, member of the French-Jewish banking dynasty shrewdly advised, “Where there is blood on the streets, buy property.” Before I get accused of anti-Semitism, let me state that one of my best friends is a Long Island Jew and I was invited to his sister’s Bat-Mitzvah.

The past, present, and the most probable future indicate that this trend is alive and flourishing. Whether it is Iraq or Libya, so much blood has been spilled in the name of delivering democracy to the deserts and disposing of tyrannical despots. Let me further preface this by stating that by no means am I an apologist for these oppressive dictators and the terror(ism) which their regimes breed.

After this Al-Arabiya story of the Hezbollah’s alleged attack on the Syrian Rebel group   FSA (Free Syrian Army) broke, I knew I was witnessing a classic case of divide and conquer which only furthers the bloodshed Rothschild speaks of.

Rewind back to 2003 when George W. Bush directly invaded Iraq to topple tyrant Saddam Hussein and in hopes of uncovering Weapons of Mass Destruction. Even though at least the former goal was accomplished, the country is rife with more sectarian violence and a puppet Prime Minister who ‘cannot’ stand for the next elections. At least the then Commander and Chief invaded Iraq with American troops.

Now however, instead of directly taking military action in Libya or Syria, American foreign policy is going back to its roots by just providing insurgents with Uncle Sam’s finest weaponry. It is like they took a page from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Rule six in the third section, Attack by Stratagem, reads “Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting, he captures their cities without laying siege to them, he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.”

Recall the time when the Afghan Mujahideen got similar assistance against the Soviets from the US. We remember how that turned out right?

While Republicans and Democrats continue acting like rival detectives trying to blame each other for the botched up investigation that is Benghazi, Libyan rebels continue to receive the same support. Former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) describes it best,

“Republicans smell a political opportunity over evidence that the Administration heavily edited initial intelligence community talking points about the attack to remove/soften anything that might reflect badly on the president or State Department. Dems in Congress have offered the even less convincing explanation for Benghazi, that somehow the attack occurred due to GOP sponsored cuts in the security budget at facilities overseas. With a one trillion dollar military budget, it is hard to take this seriously. It appears that the Administration scrubbed initial intelligence reports of references to extremist Islamist involvement in the attacks, preferring to craft a lie that the demonstrations were a spontaneous response to an anti-Islamic video that developed into a full-out attack on the US outpost.”

He also goes onto state that the extremist rebels who destroyed the US consulate in Benghazi were the ones propped up by the United States to oust Muammar Gaddafi. All this so that most NATO members can ensure the sustenance of their war-based economies during the Great Recession.

Mr. Rothschild, you still remain immortal till this day as is evident through this perpetual war on terror and the vested interests of so called democratization. If one has failed to grasp how any of this applies to the aforementioned aphorism, I’ll put it this way. This is not a conspiracy theory. It is just a study of history that just keeps repeating itself.

“Where there is blood on the streets, buy property”

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“Destroy a country, profit from rebuilding it”