Storm in a Cafe

After Vicky Donor,Shoojit Sircar ventures into the humane stories in strife-torn areas with Madras Cafe

Written by Sankhayan Ghosh | Published: July 24, 2013 3:38:31 am

Most people are likely to associate filmmaker Shoojit Sircar with Vicky Donor,a quirky comic drama,rather than his debut feature Yahaan. While Yahaan’s love-in-the-times-of-terror was quickly forgotten owing to its tepid box office performance,Vicky Donor went on to become the director’s career-defining film,remembered for delightful oddball characters such as its kulcha-eating infertility specialist or the mother who loves her daily quota of whiskey. However,with his upcoming release Madras Cafe,any classification of his work is pointless. A political spy thriller,the film tells the story of an Air Force officer in the backdrop of war-torn Jaffna,Sri Lanka.

“As a conscious citizen,it is one of the issues that was right in front of me waiting to be told,” he says. Seated in a recording studio in Bandra and speaking on the situation in Jaffna,Sircar gives the impression of a filmmaker who is conscious about his socio-political surrounding. “Whether it’s Punjab,Kashmir,Northeast or this,I follow these issues,” he says.

But it is eventually the human connect of a story that compels him to tell one. “Ultimately,a film has to touch a chord. In Jaffna,people suffered for 25 years. Somewhere down the line it affects me also,” he says,trying to explain a definitive ethos that is attached to his filmmaking.

The film’s protagonist,an Air Force officer appointed by RAW as a spy,uncovers a bigger political agenda at play,and goes through the dilemma of right and wrong. This issue,that has plagued both Sri Lanka and India for over two decades now,has not found a place in Hindi films yet. The cinematic novelty of the subject was an added impetus for Sircar to make the film. Nonetheless,it came with its own challenges. “There was no reference point for me when I started. Moreover,it was a difficult film for me because I had to be unbiased,” says the filmmaker.

His research was based on newspaper articles and documentaries. A famous photograph from The Indian Express archive has been replicated in the film,and the film will have references of real-life events and rebel outfits. The film that releases on August 23,has been shot in various parts of south India.

Among the changes that Vicky Donor brought in his life is the successful director-producer partnership he has forged with actor John Abraham. Apart from Vicky Donor and now Madras Cafe,Abraham will produce more films directed by Sircar. “If actor-director are friends and producers,it helps in cutting costs.”

A seasoned ad filmmaker,who is known for his close working relationship with Amitabh Bachchan,Sircar has a personal,passion project in mind. He wants to create a memoir of the times the filmmaker has spent with Bachchan — he has directed him in nearly 60 commercials — in a film format. “When he calls me up and asks me to keep myself free for an ad shoot,I am ready to leave everything else for it,” he says.

Sircar is known for his uncanny ability to get the casting right. It not only applies to character roles but also his leading actors. Sircar attributes this quality to his training in theatre — he had co-founded a group called Act One in Delhi. According to him,if you get the right face for a role,half the job done. While Abraham was cast (he was approached as actor first) for his “army machismo”,Nargis Fakhri is a foreign journalist. “I told John I would tone him down and that I don’t need a Rambo-kind of action where you jump out of the train or car and hit 10 people with one blow. Here he had to stand in the middle of the crowd and look like one of them,” he says.

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