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Posted at: Apr 12, 2019, 7:02 PM; last updated: Apr 12, 2019, 7:02 PM (IST)MOVIE REVIEW - THE TASHKENT FILES

Politics of convenience

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Film: The Tashkent Files

  • Cast: Shweta Basu Prasad, Mithun Chakraborty, Naseeruddin Shah, Vinay Pathak, Pallavi Joshi, Mandira Bedi, Pankaj Tripathi
  • Director: Vivek Agnihotri
Politics of convenience
A still from The Tashkent Files.

Nonika Singh

Be a seeker of truth, not a conspiracy theorist. Sagacious words, indeed. But does the director Vivek Agnihotri follow the advice he proffers? Not quite. The film turns the needle of suspicion towards powers, both in the country and abroad.  As it raises some inconvenient questions about the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, India’s second Prime Minister, he brings to the table what is already in the public domain. The book Your Prime Minister is Dead by Anuj Dhar has documented these murmurs.

The narrative steered by a fledgling journalist Ragini (Shweta Basu Prasad) in search of a scoop begins with a question, ‘who killed Shastri’ and calls out foul on many counts. However, Agnihotri too does not play by the rules. To be fair at some points in the film you do get a feeling that the maker is giving us a balanced point of view. The constitution of the committee that is set up to look into the mysterious death of Shastri in 1966 has members of all political and social hues.

It even has a right winger played by unassailable Pankaj Tripathi who tells us how secularism is what has let us down. No doubt the maker condemns him and others too. He also doesn’t spare the opposition leader for whom every issue is politically motivated and a chunaavi mudda. But once it gives the mike in the hands of Ragini, her shrill utterances, especially “who wrote on India’s forehead it is for sale,” sound no more than cinematic equivalent of filibuster. Pretences go down and Agnihotri’s political leanings, titling towards a particular political party, are all too clear.             

To bring out facts and then take shelter in cinematic liberties has become a decoy for most filmmakers. Only Agnihotri goes one step further. He not only uses actual footage of Shastri, whom the film righty hails as a true leader who would have put India on real path of progress, but also grabs of real interviews. Besides, Shastri’s grandson there is veteran journalist Kuldip Nayar, who was Shastri’s press secretary and was in Tashkent on the fateful day. To lend further authenticity to the film we are both read out and shown passages from books/documents such as ‘Mitrokhin archives’.

With references to many more writings we are led into believing that the maker has done his homework. Writing, however, whether it’s wisecracks spoken by Naseeruddin Shah or Mithun Chakraborty (fine performance) of the film is sharp. Politics is all about precision, goes the one-liner. But what exactly is film-making about? Indeed, asking discomfiting questions is every citizen’s right. But do makers have a right to distort and present verified and unverified data to malign a particular political party?

Sadly, that is the bigger question that you carry home, more pressing than the mystery surrounding the death of one of India’s most loved leaders. A pity, for the film could just have been the right moment to reinforce the greatness of the political stalwart who by the way Mr Agnihotri we all know shares his birth date with the Father of the Nation. Just as the film keeps wondering what would have been the future of India had Shastri not died suddenly in foreign soil, we too can’t help but wonder what the film, touted as political espionage, could have been if only Agnihotri had shed his political bias. As it stands, it is no more than politics of convenience. 

nonikasingh@tribunemail.com

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