Movie Review of “Madras Cafe”

Loved Madras Cafe. Superb acting by John Abraham, and also the BBC correspondent. But was let down by the distortion of history. I came out of the movie thinking that the movie distorted history in favor of Rajiv Gandhi only to curry favor with Censor Board and I&B ministry to pass the film.

Time mag cover Aug 10 1987

One pet peeve for me was that it almost deifies Rajiv Gandhi as if he had no role to play in the violence against Tamils in 1989. It also shows Janata Party government under Chandra Shekhar deliberately turning a blind eye to RAW’s intelligence on Rajiv’s assassination plot as if they wanted him killed.

IPKF’s presence in Lanka is shown as inevitable, while completely discounting the atrocities that IPKF (supposedly peace keeping force) committed against Tamils. It says IPKF was sent to Lanka only to implement Rajiv’s strong belief in democracy and peace. It forgets to mention that it was Indira Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi who systematically armed LTTE in the first place, only to clamor for peace once it went out of his control (not different from Sikh terrorism).

Quoting NYT’s review of the movie:

India, if you believed “Madras Cafe,” had little choice but to intervene in Jaffna. On the contrary, the Indian Peace Keeping Force’s participation, imposed by the peace accord signed by Mr. Gandhi, was a rash decision, whose consequences are still reverberating.

The Indian Peace Keeping Force’s participation in atrocities in the region is also outside the domain of Mr. Sircar’s story. It is widely believed that in the course of its pursuit of suspected Tamil militants the Indian Peace Keeping Force tortured prisoners with electric shock treatments and attacked Tamilian civilians arbitrarily. An Amnesty International report documents the tremendous impunity showed by India’s peacekeeping forces in Sri Lanka.”

Another twist in history is the supposed motive for LTTE to kill Rajiv. It claims that the opinion poll before 1991 elections showed Rajiv sweeping back to power, and therefore he would insist on peace in Lanka. LTTE didn’t want to give peace a chance, therefore they wanted to stop Rajiv from coming back.

The history is different. Congress under Rajiv still hadn’t recovered from the massive drubbing in 1989 elections. His popularity took another blow as Congress withdrew support from Chandra Shekhar government for flimsy, mostly selfish, reasons of phone tapping. Rajiv was still seen suspect in Bofors. Even Congress wasn’t sure of returning to power. As it happened, Congress performed very poorly in the first phase, while sweeping the later phases on sympathy factor.,_1991#Impact_of_Rajiv_Gandhi_Assassination_on_1991_Election_Results_and_India

“The Congress party did poorly in the pre-assassination constituencies and swept the post-assassination constituencies.”

No wonder the movie’s convenient depiction of inconvenient historical facts has seen protests erupt in Tamil Nadu. Overall, I liked the movie because it helped me rejig my own memory on the past articles I’ve read on the conflict.


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