The Tashkent Files movie cast: Shweta Basu Prasad, Mithun Chakraborty, Naseeruddin Shah, Vinay Pathak, Pallavi Joshi, Mandira Bedi, Pankaj Tripathi
The Tashkent Files movie director: Vivek Agnihotri
The Tashkent Files movie rating: No stars
The director’s Buddha In A Traffic Jam was a stated position on many of the elements that have troubled the current regime: pesky journalists refusing to peddle the official line, and many other worthies, which include left-over leftists, socialists, centrists, trying-to-keep-their-head-over-the-water-moderates, educationists. They all rear their inconvenient heads again in this political thriller based on real events.
The Tashkent Files takes its names from mysterious documents which vanished and reappeared in a KGB spy’s suitcase, pointing towards foul play in former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s swift, unexpected death while on an official visit to the USSR in 1966.
The conspiracy theories surrounding Subhash Chandra Bose’s death may be more widespread, but the whispers around Shashtri’s passing have never completely died down. Agnihotri’s film takes some documentary shots (Shastri’s funeral, the mourners, interviews with family and concerned persons) and fictionalizes the rest, in order to take a deep dive into the events that led to the death, and the fallout thereafter.
Young scoop-hungry journalist Ragini (Prasad) is reached by a deep throat, to entice her into investigating further. A committee is set up. And a bunch of people, for reasons never quite made clear start yelling and shouting at each other. A minister and his entourage—dog, wife, son—keep showing up. The journalist, who is part of this loud committee operating in a closed room, keeps escaping to outdoor locations, and having little chats with a person in black, with a hat pulled low on his forehead. Hush-hush.
Prasad, who made a memorable little girl in Vishal Bharadwaj’s Makdee, gives her dogged journalist everything she’s got, but it’s hard to take her character seriously. Ragini’s the kind of journo who defends a `fake’ story because of the ‘retweets’ it got, and we are asked to believe she’s turned legit in a heartbeat.
Actually, the entire film is a series of eye-roll moments, pockmarked by dialogue that’s unintentionally hilarious: a self-serious historian who claims she knows everything, a ‘neta’ who delivers lectures on social, judicial and intellectual terrorists, and this one– my favourite– ‘TRP Terrorist’. It’s hard to keep a straight face through all that haranguing.
We don’t really have to wait for the big reveal to see the purpose of the film : to tell us how the country was `up for sale in the 60s and 70s’, how ‘socialism’ ruined it, how the KGB had infiltrated it thoroughly, how bags of cash were delivered to ‘her’ and ‘her’ minions in ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’: similar lines fly thick and fast.
Can’t quite make up my mind which is better. This: ‘Life is fiction, but truth is a luxury’. Or this: ‘They will kill us with colas and fries and burgers’.
But I think it’s hard to beat the statement in the opening credits, which dedicates the film to ‘honest journalists’. Irony is dead and buried. And this is just the film for this post-truth, fake news era.