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Tashkent Files, Shastri Dies Again Movie Review

Subhash K . Jha

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The Tashkent Files

Starring  Mithun  Chakraborty,  Naseeruddin Shah, Pankaj Tripathy,  Shweta Prasad, Pallavi Joshi, Mandira Bedi, RajeshVerma, Prashant Gupta

Directed  by Vivek Agnihotri

Rating: * ½(one and a half stars)

 It  is  difficult for even a diehard  movie buff like  yours truly to think  of  one kind thing to say about this  politically motivated  film that asks  the question that we all wanted  to ask but didn’t know where  to go.

Who killed  our second  prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri while he attended an important summit in  Tashkent?  Did he  die a natural death….Or …or… was he bumped  off by….hint :  when the second  in  a hierarchy  dies the third gets  to take  over.Got that? Now revel  in  the tides  of tyrannical  intrigue.

Vivek Agnihotri  brings together a formidable cast of  ever-credible actors , which includes  his wife Pallavi Joshi playing a wheel-chair bound  historian with no qualms about factual  distortions, struggling here  to look convincing  spewing conspiracy theories  that  would make even Subramanian Swamy blush.

Using  actors  with  a powerful voice, Agnihotri unleashes  the  most unbelievable  theories in how and  why Shastridies.Some of the accomplished  players  like Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Tripathi  are wasted.Others  like Prashant  Gupta and Prakash Belawadi struggle  with lines that even the best orators  in  the world find hard to  inject with  conviction.

 It starts  off as a blind  examination  of  a clean and  honest Prime  Minsiter’s death and ends with  broad  and  slanderous remarks  on Indian leaders  accepting suitcases  filled with  currency  notes  from  international agencies which want to control(the word used  in the film is ‘colonize’)  India.

The conspiracy theory  lashes  out at  every  politician  we’ve grown up  respecting except Shastri and his one  follower in contemporary  politics who  believes in  clean and  mass-friendly  governance. Guess who?

Not that the  narrative is not  without its episodes  of  enlightened storytelling.  Getting Shweta  Basu Prasad  to play the central character of  a ‘fakenews’ gatherer desperate to  get a real scoop to save  her  job,  is  a clever  device to show how good intentions can, and often are, born  in  the  lap of  muck.

When she is not busy hamming, Shweta is quite effective  as a pert precocious  kind  of way.But  the zeal to embrace the  film’s  dubious  politics gets the better  of  her judgment .The same  goes  for  the  distinguished  cast. Actors known  to be unfailingly effective  find themselves  being  placed on slippery  grounds as  they struggle with their lines of  pick-axe bravado.

A large part  of  the narrative is restricted to a room where  all the  members of a committee  mull over the  possibility  of  Shastri’s murder in Tashkent. Everybody  goes  into spams of  self-generated anxiety,lending to  the  proceedings an aura of arrested eeriness.At  one  point Mithun Chakraborty, in what  is clearly his  moment  of glory,  gets up and goes around labeling every member of  the committee a terrorist for  peddling selfinterest  in the name of nationalism.

It made me wonder.What would we call cinema that propounds dangerous propaganda , intellectualizes googled gossip and  validates  Chinese(or in this case Russian) whispers  for its  own reasons?

Shastri  is  dead…again. Long live Shastri.

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