Two films were scheduled to release this weekend. Both based on Indian politics. One based on the life and times of India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the other highlighting the many theories around our second Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri’s untimely death just after he had signed the Tashkent Declaration in Uzbekistan, then a part of the USSR. While the Election Commission Of India stayed the release of the NaMo biopic observing that it had the potential to sway the voters, the Tashkent Files has released today without a fuss, except the one that involved a notice from Shashtri ji’s grandson. Tashkent, directed by Vivek Agnihotri, stars Shweta Basu Prasad, Pallavi Joshi, Mandira Bedi, Mithun Chakraborty, Naseeruddin Shah and Pankaj Tripathi among others. With a stellar cast in place does the Tashkent Files do justice to the many theories around the late Prime Minister’s death, let’s find out.
Well researched, poorly executed: That’s Tashkent Files for you in a nutshell. Where Shweta plays a tainted journalist who fabricated news pieces for retweets but is extremely popular with colleagues and the boss. Because that’s what we do and are paid for. Because it has been a part of a journalist’s job description for years. Because if you manufacture facts the bosses will love you. Rant over, back to the review.
Ragini’s boss wants a scoop and while she is busy ignoring his instructions, a mysterious phone call hands her one. A yellow envelope to reward her yellow journalism. In it are documents that question the death of Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent. The story explodes and a committee powered by senior politician Shyam Sundar Tripathi (Mithun Chakraborty), historian Aisha Ali Shah (Pallavi Joshi), former Research and Analysis Wing chief Ananth with an H Suresh (Prakash Belwadi) and scientist Gangaram Jha (Pankaj Tripathi) is put into place. Prasad is given ample space to showcase her craft and she does so well.
Every member of the committee, as expected, is divided in his/her opinion on the incident and while they are top professionals in their field, it’s Prasad’s Ragini who decides to do all the leg work on the case. In the process, she loses her job, her credit score, and her professional credibility. Most of the characters never leave the conference room, barring a party thrown by home minister Natrajan (Naseeruddin Shah).
Ragini’s sources have been in hiding for years but agree to meet in wide open spaces. Agnihotri piles on the insults on Lutyen's Delhi but has Ragini meet her most endangered sources right there at the heart of it. Bad writing, budget constraints, there could be ample reasons for that. The camera work though decent indoors gets patchy once the film moves to real locations. Vinay Pathak, is wasted as the ghost operative though he does help the narrative move forward.
The film sites books like Political Mysteries, Conversation with the Crow and most importantly, the Mitrokhin Archive by former KGB agent Vasili Mitrokhin. A book that created quite a sensation in the west when it was released. In the film, Ragini says nobody’s really interested in Shastri’s death, everybody has an agenda. Vivek's Agenda is clear right at the start. Blamed Congress, the education system, the history we have been taught so far, even the Muslim population. We're surprised this film didn’t catch the EC’s eye.