Madras Café: Flashback to Tamil imbroglio and Rajiv’s assassination

But Rajiv Gandhi’s name has not been mentioned even once in the film and neither have other characters been given their real names. If the director of the film was forced to use assumed names just to get his film cleared by the censor board then it is a sad commentary on the Central Board of Film Certification

Centered on the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and the Tamil problem, this film portrays the story of a Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) officer, who is sent to Sri Lanka on a covert operation. In the role of the main character – the army major and the secret RAW officer – John Abraham brings to light many new aspects of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case; for instance, that the Intelligence sleuths were aware of the murder plot beforehand, that Dhanu and her associates had conducted dry runs of the assassination, etc. But Rajiv Gandhi’s name has not been mentioned even once in the film and neither have other characters been given their real names. If the director of the film was forced to use assumed names just to get his film cleared by the censor board then it is a sad commentary on the Central Board of Film Certification. It smacks of authoritarianism. The film would have sounded and looked much better had the real names of places and people been used. Although the film does not claim to have been inspired by any real event but the characters and events clearly tell a real story. It shows how Rajiv Gandhi dispatches Indian Army for crushing LTTE, though officially, the army’s mandate was to establish peace.

It may be mentioned here that in the year 1815, Britain had colonized Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). At that time, a large number of Tamil labourers from South India were taken to Sri Lanka for working in the tea, coffee and coconut plantations. The Sinhalese are the original inhabitants of Sri Lanka and they are Buddhists. They are the majority community in the country. In 1948, Ceylon became independent and the President Bandaranaike took several steps to promote Sinhalese nationalism and the Buddhist religion.  Resentment was brewing among the Tamils, basically, due to two reasons: (1) They were deprived of the control over plantations and (2) In 1972, Buddhism was declared the state religion of the country.

It was under these circumstances that the Tamil separatist organization LTTE came into existence and Sri Lanka plunged into a civil war. This historical background does not form a part of the film.

The film depicts how the common Tamilian is caught between the LTTE, the government of India and the Sri Lankan government. The political situation in Sri Lanka was making life difficult for them. On the other hand, India was facing the problem of growing number of Tamil refugees. In these circumstances, Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to send IPKF to Sri Lanka made LTTE his sworn enemy. The Sri Lankan Tamils felt that Rajiv Gandhi was helping the Sri Lankan government in crushing and oppressing them. India was seen as trying to emerge as the Big Brother.

This enmity ended with Rajiv Gandhi losing elections. However, Rajiv Gandhi’s announcement to include solution to the Tamil problem in his party’s agenda during the next Lok Sabha polls was enough to incite the LTTE. The film has a graphic description of how Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination is plotted in a restaurant called Madras Café in London. In the same restaurant, LTTE strikes a deal with foreigners to acquire arms and ammunition as well as money. The film shows how the powerful countries want armed conflicts to continue in one part of the world or the other so that they can find ready market for their arms industry. The fact that Naxals have foreign-made firearms only serves to underline this fact.

RAW and other intelligence agencies manage to record the coded conversation between Prabhakaran and his supporters. Attempts are made to decode it. The conversation is successfully decoded at the eleventh hour but because of the top officials’ failure to act with adequate alacrity, Rajiv Gandhi is killed.

The film is slickly produced. I would categorize it as a political and historical film. It introduces the audience to many hitherto unknown aspects of the conspiracy and its execution. The depictions of the scenes of LTTE’s headquarters and of Rajiv Gandhi’s public meeting are very realistic and lively.

Film: Madras Café, Duration: 130 minutes

Director: Shoojit Sircar, Banner: Viacom 18 Motion Pictures

Published in the November 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine


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