Remember in school, when children would come up with wild stories about teachers dating or a haunted place near the school, and the rumour would spread, getting crazier with each telling? That’s exactly what Vivek Agnihotri’s film Tashkent Files reminds you of — a half-baked story that just gets wilder with each passing minute, leaving you confused and exhausted by the end.
Starring Naseeruddin Shah, Shweta Basu Prasad, Mithun Chakraborty, Pankaj Tripathi and a host of other known faces and names, the film looks at the conspiracy theory surrounding the death of independent India’s second prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri. For years, many have tried to uncover what went down the day the Shastri died in Tashkent, after signing the Tashkent Declaration that ended the India-Pakistan war of 1965. Although the official record says he died of a heart attack, many believe he was poisoned and have tried to source government documents to come to their own conclusions about his death. The film tries to lay before the audience the facts gathered and the theories floated, what actually may have happened and why, by the way of a fictionalised thriller.
The film, in all its valiant efforts to show us the ‘truth’, ends up relying on tired stereotypes that completely work against it. Prasad plays Ragini, a determined, young journalist, desperately looking for her next scoop. She is infamous for publishing a fake article, but is still somehow employed at the same place and seems to earn enough to own all Apple products. She is willing to do anything for a story, even follow an anonymous voice on her phone, down a rabbit hole she knows nothing about. She is also ready to make deals with politicians, who are the same old, conniving men, spouting lines like, “Rajneeti mein sach nahi hai, yeh hi uski sachayi hai.” (Please refrain from rolling your eyes till the end of the movie).
Ragini is made the member of a committee to look into the conspiracy, and finds herself surrounded by a righteous NGO owner, a defensive historian with a preference for beedis, a Right-wing scientist, and a few more characters who do little more than stand around, glare, and deliver one-liners borrowed from a daytime soap opera. Ragini also manages to fly to Russia and meet an elusive spy, who has never been tracked, all by herself— because it’s just that easy.
It’s no mystery, however, why viewers will be so lost in this film. Characters and plot lines aren’t well-thought-out and seem to appear out of thin air, just like the facts about Shastri’s death. Inexpertly handled shots and transitions point to an equally lost cinematographer and editor. The background score is jarring and mismatched and ruins scenes more than the OTT acting by most of the actors. Seriously, if nothing else, this film is a testament to how expertly actors can cry at the drop of a hat and without context. And, if you’re confused about the writing — the ‘anti-national’ and ‘true patriot’ rhetoric, with a sprinkling of mild communalism — you only need to look at director Agnihotri’s Twitter feed for clarification.
Setting aside the filmmaker’s ideologies and beliefs, the film in itself is a mish-mash of unformed characters and incomplete plotlines, which lead you to wonder why the filmmakers did such a shoddy job. But then again, that would be another conspiracy theory that nobody wants to solve.
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