Film: The Tashkent Files
Cast: Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Tripathi, Mandira Bedi, Prakash Belawadi, Mithun Chakraborty, Pallavi Joshi, Shweta Prasad, Ankur Rathee, Vinay Pathak, Rajesh Sharma, Achint Kaur, Ravi Shankar Jaiswal, Prasantt Gupta, Yusuf Hussain, Mohan Kapoor,
Director: Vivek Ranjan Agnihotri
Rating: * *
‘Who Killed Shastri?’ is this film’s tagline- so you know what The Tashkent Files is all about. A thriller that revolves around the conspiracy-theorists-fuelled-mystery behind the death of India’s 2nd Prime Minister Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri, who was a heart patient and had survived two heart attacks before he eventually succumbed to one in Tashkent, a day after the negotiations for the Tashkent agreement between India and Pakistan was signed and sealed on 11 January 1966 ( following the war that India won in late 1965).
Writer/Director Vivek Agnihotri, leaves no stone unturned to make a song and dance of hearsay, lies, half-truths and irrelevant musings – concocting a conspiracy theory that has neither facts, reason, sense or logic to hold itself up to close scrutiny. Even the Shastri family come on camera only to allude that Shastri’s final action was to point his hand in the direction of where his empty, overturned flask lay. This is an unabashed propaganda film(can’t figure out why the EC allowed this to slip through) meant to fuel a distrust towards India’s oldest political party (several allegations are made against the grand old party, the emergency and to a ‘her’ in specific w.r.t some random KGB files procured from a spy named Vassily Mitrochen). That’s no surprise given the director’s well publicised public stance on the ideology he subscribes to.
Even if we take this film at face value, given that the opening long winded disclaimer(prompted by grandson Anil Shastri’s legal notice) underlines the imaginary nature of this story, it’s really hard to find conviction in the narrative that makes inventions based on half-baked google searches, its centre-piece for a protracted long-winded assault on the truth.
The story opens with Home Minister Natarajan (Naseeruddin Shah) reacting to a newspaper article raking up the mystery behind the former PM’s death, written by a discredited Political journalist Ragini Phule (Shweta Basu Prasad) –the details for which were procured from an anonymous source. Part of Natarajan’s ruminations involve allusions to Kamaraj’s hand in making Shastri PM and later Indira Gandhi. So we literally know where this narrative is heading right from the start.
It’s quite weird that Agnihotri’s tool of dissemination here is a discredited journalist while his film is dedicated to honest journalists (sic). Redemption can’t be gained in the next breath perchance. Agnihotri’s narrative, spear-headed by Ragini’s impassioned (sometimes hysterical) appeal fuels the fear of socialism and leftist ideals. She claims India became a colony again after Shastri’s death, questions the validity of the word “Socialist” in the Constitution and even brings in responses to Anuj Dhar’s RTI queries as so-called evidence. Truth is indeed a luxury in Agnihotri’s fabricated universe. Factual accuracy doesn’t get a look-in while lies and canards are spread through a selective mix of associates and relatives whose perceptions on what could have happened get more weight age than indelible historical fact. Given the fact that no post mortem report was available and no forensic expert opined on the so-called facts gathered by the committee, there’s little weight in the accusations made by this witch-hunt. It’s also quite clear that neither Ragini, nor the committee have little inkling about what they are ruminating so earnestly about. The agenda here is clearly to discredit the previous Congress led regimes but Agnihotri’s assemblage of fabrications don’t amount to a rigorous and unchallengeable theory. Frankly, there’s no merit in this hare-brained, wholly imaginary conspiracy thriller!