Madras Cafe


For those of us born in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, 21st May 1991 is indelibly etched in the mind. That was the day that the then former PM, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a human bomb – an assassination that shook the country and was to stay on in our memories for a long time to come. For all his failures and allegations of corruption, Rajiv Gandhi was the blue-eyed boy of Indian politics. He symbolised hope, new blood, new vision- a break from the old school. His untimely and tragic death meant the end of an era before the era had even begun. While many of us heard of it that very night, many woke up to this news and Madras Cafe takes you back to that fateful night; rather builds up to that night at Sriperumbudur with a countdown of events that began over 3 years ago.

To think of it, it does seem surprising that while there are so many movies on J&K and Afghanistan and Taliban, no movie has been based or made on the Sri Lankan war that cost not only that country dearly but cost India as well, both in terms of the IPKF and eventually the assassination of the then PM, Rajiv Gandhi.  Madras Cafe explores the hitherto uncharted territory of the Sri Lankan strife and with deft handling, that intersperses fact with fiction, it gives us a riveting piece of cinema. That this movie is the work of director Shoojit Sircar of Vicky Donor fame does seem surprising to say the least. There are no histrionics, no clear-cut easy demarcations of right and wrong and the movie displays a sensitivity that is not seen very often in mainstream Hindi cinema. One man’s revolutionary is another man’s terrorist- the movie holds this dichotomy close to its narrative. How no act is performed in isolation and instead every action or non-action on our part sets in motion a series of apparently unrelated events that culminate in unforeseeable ways, this and such ruminations form a part of the movie’s deeper moorings.

The LTF ( read LTTE), its head Anna ( Prabhakaran), LTF’s rival group, the foreign hand, the leaks in RAW,  upright Major Vikram ( Abraham), the war correspondent( Nargis Fakhri), the failing IPKF and beleaguered Indian PM form the central line of the movie but nowhere does it lose sight of the ultimate sufferer or true cost of such wars- the human cost. Be it the Tamil refugees, the rebels, Major Vikram, the RAW chief RD (ably played by Siddharth Basu) or eventually the ex PM- the biggest sufferer is always the human being, no matter who he is. And at the end of it all, you do wonder who lost and who won and was it even worth it.

John Abraham, despite a floundering start, does full justice to his role as an army officer sent to Sri Lanka by RAW for covert operation. He gets no chance to show his chiselled body and, for a change, manages to deliver despite no flesh show. Nargis Fakhri could not have been more convincing as a war correspondent and fares so much better here than she did in her debut movie “Rockstar “.Nowhere does the pace slacken or narrative flounder. For most of us the Tamil strife is just something to be read in GK books. This movie brings it alive. And for those like me, who woke up on the morning of 22nd May, 1991 to the news of Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, it was déjà vu and once again, like that fateful day, left me wondering when will the meaningless strife end?


A Jolly Good Time Pass

Jolly llb

                  Nothing succeeds like success. With the role of Circuit under his belt, Arshad Warsi’s capacity to act isn’t really a question any more. In fact as Munna Bhai’s right hand man, he did more justice to Circuit than Sanjay Dutt did to Munna Bhai. But that was Sanjay Dutt and this is just Arshad Warsi. And that is “Jolly LLB”s only problem – that the lead role is played by the less successful Arshad Warsi.  Not that the movie had the capacity to go down the annals of Hindi Cinema as a path breaking comedy or anything of the sort. But with big star names it might have easily touched the coveted 100 cr mark, a flimsy love angle and uncalled for emotionalism notwithstanding.

                “Jolly LLB” very convincingly dramatises what is wrong with our lawyers and legal system today- how a degree and profession that had the capacity to be one of the noblest, defending the innocent and upholding the law, has become nothing but a time pass for the unemployed youth and a money making racket in the hands of the powerful, justice be damned. Prosecution is in  fact “prostitution” and an appeal is worth as much as an “apple” and a lawyer who doubles up as an astrologer is valued more than “only” lawyers.

                       Arshad Warsi plays the hapless lawyer Jagdish Tyagi from Meerut who comes to the bad world of Delhi in an attempt to make it big. However his situation doesn’t change much except when he happens to witness the hot shot lawyer Tejinder Rajpal ,played by Boman Irani, defend his obviously guilty client in an incident inspired by the Nanda hit and run case of 1999. Seeing it as an opportunity to strike gold, Jolly files a PIL with no motive other than cheap publicity and some ensuing success. However what he does open up is a can of worms- an unending story of botched up police investigations, the plight of the poor in our country whose death also is an opportunity for the powers that be, money transferring more hands than one can keep track of and the hot shot lawyer extracting money from his clients by all means fair and foul. What Jolly becomes is an unwitting pawn in this game of the rich and the powerful until his conscience, in the form of his girl friend and the silent canteen owner, wakes up and sets him on the right path.

                       As a hapless wannabe lawyer struggling to make it big, Warsi does full justice to his character bringing forth all the nuances of Jolly- a desire to make it big, a pained frustration behind the cheerful exterior, and once on the fight for truth, a determination to pursue it till the end all odds notwithstanding. If only our industry valued actors more than stars ! Boman Irani as the conniving Tejpal gives the word “dirty lawyer” a totally new meaning. Not only does he manipulate the police and judicial system, he has no qualms whatsoever in doing the same with his clients as well when he feels he has not got his just due. It is however the judge played by Saurabh Shukla who comes as the surprise package. Starting out as a belching, farting obscene judge who apparently coudn’t care less about anything, he comes forth as Justice personified with a no nonsense attitude who however, has no choice but to wait blindly for evidence to come forth. But when evidence does come forth, there is nothing that comes in way of him delivering justice- no hot shot lawyer, no legal system wherein his judgement will be appealed against and possibly over turned by the higher court.  That is beyond his control. What in his control, he does that and does it with elan.

                              “Jolly LLB” is not simply a satirical comedy in the Kafkaesque tradition. It makes you laugh, makes you think but also shows you the way. Quite like Jolly ,even if you set out to do the right thing for the wrong reasons  ( filing a PIL for personal aggrandizement and not because justice was denied) but your heart is in the right place, the chances are that you do mend your reasons and also do the right thing. The situation may be dismal, the system may be loaded with flaws and people waiting to manipulate those flaws, but still there is hope- hope in the form of Jolly who decides to fight Tejpal whatever be the cost, Jolly’s cronies who help him including the pitiable body guard he is provided with and the judge himself who shows himself more capable and of more grit than what Tejpal had bargained for.  Only if we can look beyond big names and star presence, “Jolly LLB” is a fairly decent entertainment for an evening. 

Something Special…Special 26


                    You know you are getting old when a movie set in the decade you grew up in is ready to be called a “period film”. 1987- The year that “Special Chabbis” is set in – when “Only Vimal” was the only brand worth its name in the Indian market, when Connaught Place was known as CP, a place one could aimlessly saunter in and watch life go by, when going to Chandigarh airport meant a trip through lush green fields; the  pre liberalisation era of Giani Zail Singh and Rajeev Gandhi, the days when Sunil Gavaskar and Sharjah reigned supreme,  a time when Government departments like CBI and IT were omnipotent and omniscient, when half the country would run and queue up for a walk-in interview with CBI, when a government job, no matter how ill paid, was the dream job anyone could think of. Yes the 1980s…when life for all its boredom was a tad bit simpler.

                 Unlike Neeraj Pandey’s earlier movie “A Wednesday” “Special 26” does not have a social message per se to convey but it beautifully recreates the India of 1980s. The charm lies in its almost rustic simplicity, even as it takes us on a rollercoaster ride through the shenanigans of the four conmen whose life it chronicles. We have seen the high tech versions of such heist movies, the most noticeable being “Ocean’s Eleven”, but these four poor country cousins of those L A brats achieve the unthinkable sans all gizmos and gadgets with only good old BSNL land line and Indian Airlines, with its heavily built air hostesses, to rely on. Why life, even robbery was lot less complicated back then.

                  It is to the director’s credit that despite having a star like Akshay Kumar, he is able to keep his starry persona in check, allowing him to blend in with the rest of the plain Janes creating a wonderfully balanced ensemble cast. Akshay’s love interest is superfluous no doubt as are the song and dance numbers but a star belonging to the 100 crore club has to be given some leverage. To give the devil his due, Akshay Kumar does hold his own in front of seasoned non-starry actors like Anupam Kher and Manoj Bajpai. Both as the aviator wearing suave, seasoned leader of his team and as an ordinary IT/CBI officer in boring khakis and blues, he stands tall. His capacity for over the top comic act we have witnessed plenty in movies like “Hera Pheri” and “Bhool Bhulaiyan ”. A simple, down to earth con act – that is definitely a first for him and he carries it off with élan.

            Anupam Kher carries forth the “Khosla ka Ghosla” torch of an ordinary middle-aged man fighting the system. Only that this time he beats the system as a rogue instead of being beaten and victimised by it. As the ageing Sharma ji with an ever-increasing brood, he is the quintessential Indian middle class still caught in the rut of “roti, kapda aur makan”. Looks however can be deceptive as Manoj Bajpai discovers much to his cost. Sharma ji, at the end of the day, turns out to be the biggest surprise package of all.

              And what can one say about Manoj Bajpai? As Wasim, the hardcore honest CBI officer, he is the righteousness personified that Indian bureaucracy can only dream of. A no non-sense officer, he belongs to the chosen few who make it to the much-coveted bureaucracy but struggle daily to make ends meet. With his in your face attitude, he asks his superior if, pending his promotion and salary hike, he should start taking bribes! It is through him that one of the biggest shortcomings of the Indian bureaucracy is played out before us- complacency. So very convinced he is of his own skills and authority that he too falls prey to the machinations of the devious four. Jimmy Shergill, with his loaded “Janaab”, plays upon this very weakness – the fondness for “ji hazoori” by the subordinates. It is however because of this very humane failing that the audience feels for him as well though, throughout, you are rooting for the bad guys on the other side of the law.

                      Despite the minor glitches, “Special 26” works making it probably the best release 2013 has seen so far. Though widely different in its theme, it is yet reminiscent of “A Wednesday” in so many ways. “Special Chabbis” clicks because of those very reasons that made “A Wednesday” work- simple, matter of fact approach to their respective themes.