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NEW DELHI – Viacom18’s thriller Madras Cafe could not open in some U.K. cinemas and in some parts of India on Friday after protests by Tamil groups.
The film is set against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s civil war that ravaged the country in the 1980s and 1990s when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant organization, rebelled against the Sri Lankan government and pushed for a separate state for the Tamil people.
The Shoojit Sircar-directed film revolves around an Indian intelligence officer – lead actor and co-producer John Abraham – who goes on a covert mission to Sri Lanka.
Madras Cafe was cleared by India’s censor board for release, and the film opened in most Indian cities. But some Tamil groups have protested that the film portrays the LTTE as a terrorist organization.
According to media reports, some Tamil groups also protested outside cinemas in the U.K. leading to the film being pulled. Similar scenes were also reported in the south Indian city of Chennai.
“Our policy is to show a wide range of films for different audiences,” said British exhibitor Cineworld. “However, following customer feedback, and working with the film distributors, we have decided to not show Madras Cafe.” The company offered refunds to those who had bought tickets.
“Since the government has not banned the film, the theaters are free to screen, but if they feel they might face the wrath of protesters, then we can’t do anything,” a senior member of the South Indian Theatre Owners’ Association told news wire agency India Abroad News Service.
“I haven’t watched Madras Cafe, but I have been told that it is anti-Tamil. I don’t know if that’s true but if it is, then we should definitely not encourage its release in Tamil Nadu,” leading Tamil actor Sathyaraj told reporters at a public event. Reports also quoted Tamil filmmaker Seeman, head of the Naam Tamizhar (We Tamils) group, stating that the film was “nauseatingly anti-Tamil.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter last week, when asked if the film actually mentioned the LTTE, Sircar said: “There is a fictional rebel group in the film, but we don’t call them the LTTE. So that is why I am saying, it is a fictional film and unless you see it, you can’t pass any judgment and voice unnecessary protests… I am ready for an open discussion once they (protestors) see the film.”
“We have made a realistic film without being frivolous and over sensationalizing anything, as we believe that the Indian audiences are now looking for credible and realistic cinema,” said a joint statement by Viacom18 and Abraham’s banner JA Entertainment. “We have told a story. It’s our right of creative expression. We have worked hard to make this film. We only urge people to see the film without being biased and judge it on its merit and not politicize a creative product.”
Meanwhile, Madras Cafe found some support on social media as various celebrities posted their comments on the film. “Saw Madras Cafe last night. Well done John Abraham, (lead actress) Nargis Fakhri and Shoojit. Such a well-made film!” actor Abhishek Bachchan posted on his Twitter account.
“Saw Madras Cafe a superb movie! Very intelligently made, taking a historical event and creating a story around it — must watch,” tweeted actor-producer Uday Chopra who is co-producing the upcoming Nicole Kidman film Grace of Monaco.
The film has also managed to win over some critics, such as the Indian edition of U.K. magazine Time Out‘s Aniruddha Guha, who wrote, “The similarity to (Paul Greengrass‘) Green Zone ,apart (a couple of brownie points subtracted for lack of originality), Madras Cafe is a commendable cinematic achievement for Sircar… It ticks most boxes right, and while presenting its version of a real event, it engages you with tropes that make a compelling thriller.”
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