‘The Tashkent Files’ catapults some discomforting questions into our subconscious mind and make us wriggle out of our comfort zones. It ignites the inherent desire for ethics and probity in public life and cringes at unscrupulous politician and practices that are responsible for our downfall as a nation and people“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life - think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone,” —Swami Vivekananda
Well, that's exactly what the protagonist of the movie, the ambitious and dynamic journalist, Raagini Phule (Shweta Basu Prasad), does in her transformative journey from a fake news reporter to a daring and self-driven journalist in pursuit of truth, a truth that could demolish the citadels of power like a pack of cards.
‘The Tashkent Files’ by the ace movie director Vivek Agnihotri is a laudable attempt at showcasing the dark underbelly of politics, in a gripping and thought-provoking fashion. It is a sensitive portrayal of what the protagonist calls ‘state-sponsored murder’ of one of India’s most humble and low profile Prime Ministers, Lal Bahadur Shastri, whose only public memory is of his slogan “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” when in reality the little man in his short tenure left an indelible imprint on all walks of national life through policies and practices that aimed at lifting India from the morass of poverty and dependency into an era of self-sufficiency and sustainable growth.
The Movie ignites the inherent desire for ethics and probity in public life and cringes at unscrupulous politician and practices that are responsible for our downfall as a nation
The life of this people’s Prime Minister, who rose from the grassroots to enter the corridors of power with the single-minded dedication to transform India into a power to reckon within the comity of nations, was cut short in the most controversial manner in foreign land (Tashkent) while on an official trip. Yet no eyebrows were raised, no action taken. The few voices that were raised were quelled brutally or silenced forever, depicting the dirty power play behind ‘power politics’.
Mithun Chakraborty and others in a still from the movie ‘The Tashkent Files’
The movie’s biggest strength is its immaculate casting. Every character was well-defined and impeccable in projecting a set aim, agenda and ideology, Seasoned actors like Mithun Chakraborty as a politician well past his prime and desirous of reviving his fortune, Naseeruddin Shah as the unscrupulous Home Minister did their job well but the icing on the cake were the supporting roles played by actors like Pallavi Joshi as an armchair historian who wants to be the final word, Mandira Bedi as the capitalism hating but capital wanting NGO firebrand, Pankaj Tripathi as a common sense brandishing intellectual. Even the unassuming Vishwa Mohan Badola did a fantastic job as the retired judge struggling to come to terms with his anonymity. The cherry on the cake, was, of course, Shweta Basu Prasad, as the bold young investigative journalist, who pulls all stops, to reach her goal. All in all, the movie does justice to the well-researched book by Anuj Dhar titled ‘Your Prime Minister is Dead’, on which the movie is based, which is a commendable feature in itself. The entire team has done its homework well in order to make this an enthralling watch and not a drab documentary. What is most noteworthy is that the movie doesn’t miss out on critical pointers like the stranglehold of money power, media power, alien powers and ideologies on Indian politics through symbolic depictions like Lutyens, Puppet strings etc. enlightening the audience without antagonising the Censor Board or the powers that be.
Lal Bahadur Shastri's son Sunil Shastri and grandson Sanjay Nath Singh with director Vivek Agnihotri and actors Pallavi Joshi and Jia Shankar during a press conference on ‘The Tashkent Files’ in New Delhi on March 25, 2019
For any movie, especially for a cinematic creation based on a book, the real challenge is to create a plot that would suit the needs of celluloid. Especially, for a person who has read the book before watching the movie, it is always a sense of apprehension. What differentiates this movie, ‘The Tashkent Files’ from the book ‘Your Prime Minister is Dead’, is the way two parallel stories interwoven in a single story. First is the original plot that led to the sudden and sad demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri and the second one that highlights the contemporary issues that still grapples with our political system. This experiment of unique contemporarisation of history, with the element of surprise and suspense, adds substance to the book while retaining the investigative essence of the book.
The movie has established Vivek Agnihotri’s forte in this genre of new age cinema that doesn’t shy away from taking hard-hitting issues into the drawing rooms and public debate platforms. These kinds of movies give entertainment an intellectual twist. They are engaging, enticing and above all enabling. They force you to sit back and take stock of things. They enable you to draw the Lakshman Rekha between what is acceptable and what is not. It challenges the ‘Sab Chalta Hai’ attitude that has become the hallmark of Indian politics. If Vivek’s The making of Buddha in a Traffic Jam was a spark, then this movie is sure shot fire that is capable of rekindling our grey cells and encouraging us to ask bold questions about the mysterious deaths and disappearances of great leaders like Subhas Chandra Bose, Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, Deendayal Upadhyaya. Why on earth is the world’s largest democracy silent on the fate that befell these great sons of the soil? Why have their dossiers not made public after so many years? What or who are the vested interests behind keeping the truth under wraps? Are we truly independent or still a puppet regime, whose strings are controlled by powers sitting elsewhere? What do they stand to gain or lose and how will it impact national security and consciousness? These are all questions that lesser mortals fail to indulge in bogged by the trials and tribulations of their petty lives. Movies like The Tashkent Files catapults these discomforting questions into our subconscious mind and make us wriggle out of our comfort zones. It ignites the inherent desire for ethics and probity in public life and cringes at unscrupulous politician and practices that are responsible for our downfall as a nation and people. This is perhaps the best contribution a movie can make to the larger cause of national revival and regeneration. Hail the effort !!
(The writer teaches Political Science at Gautam Buddha University, Greater NOIDA)