MADRAS CAFE (Shoojit Sircar, 2013, India) – Re-imaginings


If the formerly curious RGV arrogated his restless style from the Tony Scott School of cinema then it seems expressly ironic that directors like Shoojit Sircar redeploy such a hyper aesthetic in a geopolitical context with sadly lacklustre results. Madras Cafe, which claims to be an espionage thriller, is an archetypal vindication from mainstream cinema dealing with an antagonistic political issue or event. In this case, Madras Cafe, is set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan civil war including the assassination of Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eealam (LLTE) or Tamil Tigers fought a protracted war against the Sri Lankan Army and Indian military, arguing for an independent state for the persecuted Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. To argue that both sides of the conflict are shown to be at the mercy of geopolitical dynamisms such as corporate power reasons for an objectivity sadly lacking in a film that paints the Tamil Tigers and its leader as bloodthirsty terrorists. The trauma and persecution of the Tamil minority is not only airbrushed out but their sense of loss, displacement and pain becomes a distant spectacle in which the Tamil Tigers complex Marxist ideology (not even mentioned in the film) is equated with contemporary terrorism, facilely inferring resistance as fanaticism that simply must be eradicated in the name of India’s national security. More troubling is Sircar’s dubious choice to employ an overly stylised cinematic approach reducing the conflict to clichéd war imagery and simplifying a history that demands microscopic interrogation. By changing the scenery from Pakistan to Sri Lanka may come as a relief but the casual ideological rhetoric in which insurgency, resistance and liberation are treated, as a ‘problem’ is unchanged. Even more abhorrent is the treatment of the Tamil Tigers who are denied a credible, ideological voice and constructed as the villainous Other. Such essentialist ideological oversimplification homogeneously and dangerously re-imagines the past, using cinema as a political conduit for historical engineering.

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